Bay's Travel Blog

I don't travel much any more. Resist!

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Companionable evening

My husband Wesley volunteers every fall for WUOT's fund drive. He's been doing this since 1996 or so -- I'm not really sure when he started. But he felt that since he listens to NPR all the time, he should support it as much as he could. He has enjoyed that stint from the very first moment, and he actually takes vacation from work so he can answer phones.

As a result of his volunteer efforts, he's gotten to know a lot of the people at the radio station really well -- and they have either accepted him as the curmudgeon he is, or they like him that way. I'm not sure which.

A few years ago, "A Prairie Home Companion" came to town and broadcast from the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, and we were there with bells on. I have to admit, it was cool. It was *so* cool. I'm a big fan of Sue Scott's, and it was just cool to see this ... this *institution* of public radio live and in person. We wouldn't have gotten the tickets if the radio station hadn't first opened ticket sales to the volunteers and supporters of WUOT. That show sold out very quickly.

Wesley was enthralled -- while I am a casual fan of the show, Wesley is a rabid one. He hangs on every word uttered by Garrison Keillor as if it were a proclamation from on high. He adores Sue Scott and Tim Russell as magnificent voice talents (which they truly are), and Rich Dworsky and Pat Donohue as amazing musicians (which *they* truly are). For me, the highlights of that live performance were seeing Sue Scott and Tom Keith the sound effects guru. For Wesley, the highlights were... everything.

But that was years ago, and we're getting older by the minute and starting to forget we ever saw Garrison Keillor live-and-in-person once when we weren't so old. When it was announced that the live/non-broadcast touring show "The Rhubarb Tour" would be coming to Knoxville, Wesley considered going for about two seconds. Then he found out how much the tickets cost. And he tallied up our recent financial stresses (broken appliances, sick birds, and so on, and so forth), and determined that it was not in the budget.

So when he received an email from the underwriting coordinator at WUOT, and she told him that the station had a few select tickets for a few supporters of the radio station, and that they had decided that Wesley deserved a pair, you would have thought Garrison Keillor himself had phoned and said, "Hey, pal, let's go ice fishing and chat about Lutheran guilt." Icing on the cake was the fact that these few, select NPR geeks would be invited backstage to meet The Man Himself.

(It's a good thing my bird came home before Thursday night, huh? Because I so wouldn't have gone if Cosmo had still been missing!)

Last night, we dressed up and went to the Civic Auditorium to see "The Rhubarb Tour." Although I had read about it in the Sunday paper, I had neglected to register the fact that Sue Scott would not be touring with this show. So I spent most of the evening wallowing in disappointment that she was not there. I also missed Tom Keith and Tim Russell -- *immensely*. Tom Keith is a virtuoso in the dying art of radio sound effects.

But there were a number of very nice points to make up for those much-missed regulars of the radio broadcast show. Prudence Johnson had a sublimely smooth singing voice and actually made Keillor sound pretty good on their duets. Her last song, with one verse in French and the rest in English, was nothing short of brilliant -- it was just gorgeous. The substitute sound man Fred Newman makes all his sound effects with his voice, and he does a really good job. He's quick and versatile and keeps pace with Keillor's whims admirably. I just really missed Tom Keith, I'm afraid, so I'm not an objective critic.

The absolute best parts of the evening were Pat Donohue (guitars) and Rich Dworsky (bandleader and piano) and the rest of The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band. *They* were incredible from start to finish. I would pay $60 a ticket just to see and hear them. And I am a cheapskate, so that's saying a lot.

When the show was over, after a standing ovation and an obviously unplanned encore song (this non-broadcast show is a great deal more improvised than the one you hear on your own NPR station), we waited for the crowds to abate and then went to the front of the house to await our audience with the Keillor. I got my broken digital camera out of my purse and starting messing with it in the hopes that its motor would at least work long enough to get some pictures of Wesley and his hero, Pat Donohue. Yes, Garrison Keillor is a great writer and speaker, but really -- we were there to meet the peripheral players.

Backstage, most of the lucky volunteers who had been chosen for this honor rushed to the tiny anteroom that held the star, and I hung back a little, worried that I would miss the musicians if I didn't place myself in their path. Unlike the star who didn't pack up anything on the stage, The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band had to pack up instruments and sound equipment and goodness only knows what. I waited. Wesley waited. After a few people had met Keillor, they came up to us and chatted a bit. I finally met Cindy Hassil, the coordinator about whom Wesley had been telling me for at least a year. She was very nice.

We met Prudence almost immediately, and *she* was very, very nice. A little shy, but really nice and warm when you gave her half a chance. She also has a wide, friendly smile that I wasn't able to see when she was onstage.

Then a miracle happened, and there was Pat Donohue in the hall with us, breathing the same air that we were breathing and very much a *real* person. Wesley and I both pounced on him. We were trying to impress on him that we were really there to meet *him*, but he was tired and distracted. It wasn't until I said, "No, wait, you don't get it -- we turn up the radio when *you* are on," that he started to understand that *he* has fans. He's not accustomed to that. Why would he be? He's just a guy who plays guitar and writes the most fabulous songs. For years, he's been a supporting player to A Prairie Home Companion as a whole. In any case, I finally got a picture of him and Wesley, and he was very warm and pleasant once he understood that we were really there to see *him*.

Next on the roster of fabulous talent to happen by for our pouncing was Rich Dworsky, who was incredibly fun. OMG, what a guy!!!!!! He was friendly and outgoing and posed for another picture. I complimented his tie -- a gorgeous hot pink swirl of color, and he happily accepted the praise because it's a Jerry Garcia tie. Dworsky was *great*!!!!! I was actually just as sorry to see him continue down the hallway as I'd been when Pat Donohue took his leave! I would love to hang out with those guys for hours on end.

Before we left, we met Keillor, whose handshake is very warm and gentle. He didn't seem to like my flashbulb. I'm sure he's tired of stalkers and autograph hounds -- his concession to comfort seems to be his red sneakers -- they looked very comfortable.

After all that excitement, we left the theatre and discovered that the traffic was still abating. We had lingered almost an hour past curtain, so I was surprised that the traffic was so bad until I remembered the motorcycle convention taking place. During Keillor's Lake Wobegon monologue, fireworks were going off in the air over the coliseum, which is adjacent to the auditorium, so the bursts were clearly audible during the entirety of the end of the show, causing quite a distraction.

[Terrible confession: Those of you who know me also know I am a complete sucker for pyrotechnics, and I actually considered ducking out of the theatre to watch the fireworks rather than listen to the monologue. I'm a terrible person. I know. I didn't *do* it, though, so I hope I redeemed myself from my traitorous thoughts.]

So *that's* why the traffic was so bad -- there were the cars from the "Rhubarb" thing, and the motorcycles from the Honda Hoot thing. We were out of downtown Knoxville by 10:45 and on our way to Waffle House for a late dinner. Which, I have to say, was incredibly yummy. There's nothing like a BLT and hash browns (scattered, smothered, covered, and chunked) to cap off a perfectly lovely summer evening.


At 24/6/05 4:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what a fabulous experience!!! Sounds like you guys won't be forgetting that show any time soon! :)

At 24/6/05 11:10 PM, Blogger Ally said...

I felt like I was there Bay! And even though I was familiar with the names, had no idea really who you were talking about. HOWEVER, through the story, I felt like I MUST LOVE these people TOO! LOL :)

At 25/6/05 3:06 AM, Blogger Thena said...

Ohhh, I wish I could have been there.....we love those folks!!
Big Public Radio Fans here.....of course hubby loves Car Talk.........


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