An estimated 3,000 fans of Garrison Keillor and "A Prairie Home Companion" stood at 4:45 p.m. Saturday to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" in the friendly key of G.
Keillor, wearing a Bemidji red-and-black plaid vest, courtesy of the Bemidji Woolen Mills, and his trademark red socks and sneakers, cruised the John Glas Fieldhouse with singer Andra Suchy during the pre-show. They sang favorites such as "Can't Help Falling in Love With You" and "Unchained Melody," and posed for the flashing phone cameras and glad-handed audience members.
Kristi Booth, regional network director for Minnesota Public Radio, said Keillor had a good time bringing the show to Bemidji State University's John Glas Fieldhouse in April 2003. She said he likes the venue because he can walk around and get personal with the fans. He also enjoys highlighting the North Country quirks, such as the popularity of ice fishing. She said she was pleased the show's tour schedule could fit in Bemidji.
The full Prairie Home cast of Richard Dworsky and the Guy's All-Star Shoe Band, radio acting company of Sue Scott and Tim Russell and sounds effects man Tom Keith moved smoothly through the skits and musical numbers. Guest headliners Rhonda Vincent and her band, Suchy, and jazz guitarist Sam Miltich of Grand Rapids, Minn., added extra variety to the show.
Bemidji's Bill Batchelder was another special guest, reading about his family and his experiences growing up.
Keillor said he was glad to be in Bemidji, but was somewhat disappointed that the weather had warmed up into the 20s when he was planning on 10 below zero.
For those who listen to "A Prairie Home Companion" at 5 p.m. Saturday evenings on Minnesota Public Radio 91.3 and 88.5 and the repeat at 11 a.m. Sundays on 91.3, seeing the show produced offers special details.
"We do live broadcast that goes out as we do it," said Keillor.
For example, as Keillor runs through the scripts, he drops the pages on the stage floor. The audience can watch Keith vocalize snowmobiles and seagulls or crumple a Styrofoam plate to mimic lake ice cracking. And if a glitch occurs, such as the microphone going dead Saturday at the beginning of Keillor's "Quiet Week in Lake Wobegon" monologue, that is broadcast nationwide, too.
In addition to a pre-show, Keillor and company continued the music for about half an hour after the on-air light went off. He led the entire audience in four verses of "America the Beautiful," Vincent and her band performed a few more songs, and Guy's All-Star Shoe Band joined in with additional numbers.
After two standing ovations, audience members streamed out of the Glas enthusiastically praising the show.
"I love it," said Jennifer Sanford of Bemidji. "I grew up listening to Garrison Keillor. He seems so down to earth walking through the crowds. I like how they put in all the Bemidji things."
"I've been listening since birth," said Anders Gilstad, who grew up out East but graduated from Bemidji State University in 2008. He said his parents, Linda Hedlund and Claire Gilstad, turned him on to "A Prairie Home Companion."
"It's great, wonderful," said Ron Ueland.
"Everything we expected," said Linda Ueland.
They drove to Bemidji from Newfolden, Minn., for the performance.
"Fantastic," said Pam Kelsey of Bemidji.
"A Prairie Home Companion" will take the stage for another out-of-Metro performance next Saturday, Feb. 19, at the University of Minnesota-Morris.