Garrison Keillor bids adieu: His last 'Prairie Home Companion' show

After Saturday's season finale, 'Prairie Home Companion' will return with new episodes in October with an updated format and new host, Chris Thile.

(AP Photo)
Writer and humorist Garrison Keillor hosts his final broadcast of the weekly radio variety show "A Prairie Home Companion" Friday, July 1, 2016, at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Calif.

Writer and humorist Garrison Keillor served up a bittersweet farewell for some 18,000 fans at the Hollywood Bowl, as he hosted his final episode of the old-style radio variety show, "A Prairie Home Companion."

Keillor's swan song Friday night wasn't markedly different from most of his nearly 42 years of "Companion" episodes, offering a rich mix of Americana music and often tongue-in-cheek comedy. (Although U.S. President Barack Obama did call in for a special segment recorded earlier Friday, but not even the Bowl audience will hear that until Saturday's broadcast.)

The Los Angeles Times reported that Keillor began writing Friday’s show on the flight Wednesday from Minnesota to Los Angeles; he finished penning the sketches over coffee and oatmeal in his hotel room Thursday morning, and the monologue yet to be written as of rehearsal time and the fate of certain characters still hanging in the balance.

“I feel as if I need to close some doors on some characters who I haven’t talked about in a long time,” Keillor says during an interview in the Bowl’s box seats. “I need to tell where they are, or some of them simply have to die. I have to take care of them because they shouldn’t be left hanging.”

Friday night's "last-show" aspect of the doings was so subtle that, at one point, even Keillor's cast mates began to prod their boss, asking, "How do you feel (about leaving)?" Keillor eventually, reluctantly replied, "It feels like something ends and something else is about to happen."

The 73-year-old Keillor delivered one last "Lives of the Cowboys" comedy sketch as well as the show's best-known segment, "News from Lake Wobegon," a folksy report from a fictional town where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average"

Keillor sang a few more songs and closed out the show as if it was any other.

Only during the encore did he truly take time to say goodbye, engaging the crowd with a moving medley of songs running the gamut from classic spirituals to pop ballads.

"Companion" attracts more than three million public-radio listeners in the U.S.; many more counting the show's Armed Forces Radio audiences worldwide.

After Saturday's season finale, it will return with new episodes in October with an updated format and new host, Chris Thile, a singer and mandolin player, who has served as a guest host on “Prairie” before. 

“Chris Thile is a gifted artist and a great musical enthusiast of far-ranging interests,” Keillor previously said of Thile when the singer briefly took on the guest-host job. “He is a great choice.” 

Next, Keillor plans to do concerts and is working on a "Wobegon" screenplay. Last year, when he announced his exit from the show, Keillor said: 

“I have a lot of other things that I want to do,” he said. “I mean, nobody retires anymore. Writers never retire. But this is my last season. This tour this summer is the farewell tour.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.