Garrison Keillor will return to Macalester to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, over the weekend of July 4th. The weekend will be open to the public and will include musical performances, delicious local food, and a broadcast performance of A Prairie Home Companion.
“Weather permitting, the main stage will be set on the Great Lawn, and the Chapel, Mairs Concert Hall and Mainstage Theater in the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center will hold smaller free concerts over the weekend,” Special Events Manager Kate Youngdahl said. According to Youngdahl, Shaw Field will host a food court, some activity tents and a small outdoor stage, as well as a beer garden for event attendees. John B. Davis Lecture Hall will have a rotating schedule of films and Prairie Home slideshows showing over the weekend.
Tickets for the broadcast performance, which will take place on Saturday, July 5th at 5 p.m., are available from the program’s website and cost $35 for General Admission. Tickets for the musical event, “40 Songs for 40 Years”, which will take place on Friday evening, are also available online. Additionally, there will be volunteer opportunities made available to the neighboring community, so Macalester students, staff, and faculty who are looking to get involved should watch the Daily Piper for more information.
The weekend will feature many smaller free musical performances as well. Groups scheduled to perform throughout the weekend include Iris DeMent, Stuart Duncan and Old Crow Medicine Show, among many others. A full list of confirmed musical guests can be found on the website.
Keillor’s show has come a long way in the past 40 years. The first live broadcast had an audience of fewer than 25 people, and was held on Macalester’s campus as well.
“The first live broadcast, July 5, 1974, was in the little concert hall in Janet Wallace,” Keillor wrote in an email. “The hall was rather plush compared to the dumpy places we wound up in later, with organ pipes and a nice green room. We had very little idea of what we were doing, except sort of imitating the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.”
Today, A Prairie Home Companion is broadcast weekly on more than 600 public radio stations and gives live shows across the country or at their home theater, the Fitzgerald Theater, in St. Paul. For those unaware of the format of the show, it typically includes a number of comedic sketches and an interesting assortment of musical performances.
“We’ve been swimming against the current in broadcasting, and that feels good, being counter-cultural,” Keillor wrote. “We do a live variety show, in which an opera singer might follow a Scots band with bagpipe following a gospel singer, all of them excellent, and the comedy is more silliness than satire, and there is room for the honestly sentimental.”
Macalester has had a long relationship with Keillor, who gave the commencement address in 2002 and spoke at convocation in 2011. For Keillor, coming to Macalester for the 40th anniversary event was an obvious choice.
“We wouldn’t have done it anywhere else,” he said. “We were idealists in public radio and Macalester is in the business of training idealists. We’ll do a couple shows on the green and a hymn-sing/dance in the fieldhouse, and it’ll be great fun.”