Last week, I had a video from the "pre-event" concert of A Prairie Home Companion last year, the day before the show's official 40th anniversary broadcast on July 5, 2014. Here's a video of highlights from that anniversary show.
There are a few things in it that particularly stand out. One is that around the 9:30 mark, Garrision Keillor has a charming exchange with an older lady, Lois Binder, who was a guest on his very first show. Also, I had mentioned that on that "pre-event" concert, one of the guest was Iris DeMent, who wrote and sang the wonderful song, "Our Town," which was used in the finale of the show, Northern Exposure. It turns out that she also guests in this 40th anniversary show -- and this time actually sings..."Our Town".
It was great to see regular guests Robin and Linda Williams on the show, but also who I'm sure is Tom Keith, though he's not identified in this video. He was a very long-time sound effects guy, who finally left the show a few years back and the legendary Fred Newman took over. In the earlier years, Keith (who's in a green shirt, in fact I believe that's him in the freeze-frame above) also played a recurring character, the sort of hapless but ever-trying Lake Wobegonian Jim Ed Poole.
But wonderful as all that is (and it's quite wonderful...), the best by far are a few small things at the very beginning of the show. Small, but very meaningful, one of them especially. This latter won't mean much to most people, even those who've listened for 20 years, even 35, but it alone makes this video a treasure and worth it all, for me.
First things first, and the initial moment comes with a reminder that Garrison had initially ended doing A Prairie Home Companion in 1987, but when he returned a few years later he introduced a new theme song, changing it from the original, wonderful and beloved, "Hello, Love," that went -- "Well, look who's coming through that door. I knew we met somewhere before, Hello, Love." For this 40th anniversary, he happily brings back that original song. The show here starts with the current theme, but then goes into the original one that started it all.
Also, I had mentioned last week (and in several earlier posts) how much I liked Butch Thompson, an early music director of the show for many years, and how Keillor brought him back for the pre-event concert. And so it's not surprising to see him back here for the official show, as well. But it's so nice to see him featured at the star. That'll be him at the beginning playing the clarinet right up front, stage left. The white-haired fellow, in a white shirt and red tie.
But it was one other thing that almost knocked me off my seat with joy. And honest, I'm not exaggerating.
Much as I liked Butch Thompson, he wasn't the first music director of the show. It was a low-key, but wildly talented trio of Bobby Douglas, Adam Grainger and Mary DuShane, who were known as the Powdermilk Biscuit Band, who played the bejeepers out of everything they touched. They were the house band in that early show I saw in the early 1970s when I went to visit my brother in St. Paul, Minnesota, and A Prairie Home Companion was just a local broadcast. I believe they continued with PHC when it finally went national, but only stayed with it a few years. Even few of the most loyal PHC fans have never even heard of them. But they were so terrific, and in the intervening decades, I've listened in hopes of them making a guest appearance, or at least just being mentioned. I haven't come close to hearing every broadcast, especially in the more-recent years, but I've never heard the Biscuit Band even referred to.
Until this broadcast.
Because there they are -- Bobby Douglas, Adam Grainger and Mary DuShane -- the Powermilk Biscuit Band directly up front for all to see at the opening of the show, in the place of honor, downstage right, playing "Hello, Love" and all the rest. I can't tell you what an utter, heart-aching joy to it was to see, and still is each time I watch it. And I've watched the opening a lot. It brought back memories of going to see A Prairie Home Companion with my brother in St. Paul when it was still just that local broadcast. (I still have a souvenir from that show, and it has a mention of the Powder Milk Biscuit Band.) And if you listen closely, you can tell that there are some very longtime fans in the crowd who recognize the Biscuits when Garrison Keillor introduces the three, breaking out into much-appreciated applause. I love the subtle way that he references them being on stage before introducing them. They aren't in the video all that long. But after almost 40 years, it was long enough. I'm still smiling.
(Adam Grainger reappears later in the video in a number with Pop Wagner, and the trio shows up in a big group number around the 10-minute mark, so clearly -- and happily -- there was much more with them all throughout the broadcast.)
And now you can see them yourselves, at last. The Powermilk Music Band, Butch Thompson and Garrison Keillor all opening the 40th anniversary broadcast together, once again.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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