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From Lake Wobegon to Lake Bemidji: Keillor conquers on opening day of deer season

Garrison Keillor sings during his warm up performance before the “A Prairie Home Companion” performance Saturday night at the Historic Chief Theater, downtown Bemidji. Joe Froemming | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Mother Nature set a wintry Minnesota scene in Bemidji just in time for Garrison Keillor and "A Prairie Home Companion’s" arrival on the opening weekend of deer hunting season.

An hour prior to the live broadcast, the lobby of the Chief Theater was packed with people picking up coveted tickets to Saturday evening’s show.

Although Keillor is competing with what is considered by some to be a holy day in Minnesota, the $38 a seat tickets sold out in less than 10 minutes of online ticket sales opening on Oct. 10 at 10 a.m. All 290 will call tickets were claimed.

"My son was parked on the computer ready to buy our tickets that day," said Kate Lahti of Laporte. She was fortunate enough to score a third row seat.

Lahti and Bob Birnstengel have been listening to Keillor for at least 20 years. The two saw "A Prairie Home Companion" at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul and at the John Glas Fieldhouse in Bemidji previously.

"Garrison Keillor is quite a storyteller," Lahti said. "I love his jokes, the Minnesota connection. I’ve read his books."

As the crowd of strong women, good looking men and above average children moseyed from the lobby to their seats many people stopped to submit a greeting with hopes it will be selected to be read on-air.

"I like his jokes," said 9-year-old Zane Hiller of Bemidji. Zane and his dad Brian watched the movie version of "A Prairie Home Companion" Friday night in preparation for Saturday’s show.

"If we miss the live broadcast we listen to the podcasts," Brian said. "It’s fabulous."

Keillor and his crew enlisted the knowledge and talents of locals to put on the "Gold in the North" production at the Chief Theater. Mayor Rita Albrecht was added to the lineup along with Bemidji singer/songwriter Sonny Johnson. Dawn Mason and Bemidji Pioneer Sports Editor Pat Miller sacrificed time away from deer camp to represent the local deer hunter population. Mason and Miller had already been out hunting Saturday morning.

"They may be the only hunters on the radio today," Keillor said. He described Minnesotans during hunting season as "people who have come to terms with carnivorous-ness."

The flat black stage of the Chief Theater was transformed into a bonafide "A Prairie Home Companion" set. Following the band’s warm up session and opening comments from Keillor, the red "on air" light was flicked on and the show was live.

Saturday evening "A Prairie Home Companion" featured prose poet Louis Jenkins, singer Diane Sauer, the Royal Academy of Radio Actors, Tim Russell, Sue Scott and Fred Newman and Rich Dworsky and the November Boys (Gary Raynor and Richard Kriehn).

The Royal Academy of Radio Actors transformed into characters with facial expressions and body posturing that can’t be translated through radio airwaves proving a live performance is a must-see.

Keillor wrote a song specifically for Bemidji recounting his last trip to town in which an ice fishing excursion ensued. "A Prairie Home Companion" was hosted at the John Glas Fieldhouse in 2011.

The Chief Theater was selected for Saturday’s broadcast due to the timing being on the opening day of deer season in November, the venue being easier to manage than the arena and the sound quality is better for radio, according to David O’Neill, Marketing Director/Archivist for Prairie Home Productions which produces "A Prairie Home Companion," which will celebrate 40 years on air in the summer of 2014.

Because Keillor writes the show the day prior and edits up until and sometimes during the broadcast, he was not available for comment, O’Neill explained.

Keillor’s next stop is at Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas on Nov. 16. Tickets are still available. "A Prairie Home Companion" is broadcast live on Saturday evenings at 5 p.m. For listening options, visit


Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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