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Locals work hard to bring Saturday’s ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ show to downtown Bemidji

“A Prairie Home Companion” comes to the historic Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji on Saturday. The show was sold out in minutes when tickets went on sale online. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — The marquee is ready with the news that all Bemidji knows by now — "A Prairie Home Companion" is coming to town this weekend. The historic Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji seemed to be the place that hit Garrison Keillor’s spot when he was looking for an intimate venue.

"When ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ comes to town, it really puts that place on the map," said Kristie Booth, Minnesota Public Radio Regional Network Director.

"This Saturday, 4 million radio listeners across the nation will hear all about why we love Bemidji and this community."

The Bemidji show sold out in six minutes when online sales stared, with requests for tickets coming from such places as North Carolina and Virginia on the East Coast to Missoula, Mont., and South Dakota to the West. But the majority of tickets were bought by Bemidjians. The Paul Bunyan Playhouse offered to sell tickets through its ticketing system, something never done for any outside group.

All tickets are "will call" and the house will close at 4:45 p.m. for a 5 p.m. start, so be sure to get there in plenty of time to pick up your tickets. PBP board members will be staffing the box office and ushering as all seats are reserved.

The second item on the agenda for getting the space ready for an off-season event was a thorough housecleaning lead by the PBP board chair Lynn Johnson.

"Lynn Johnson, Tom Lucas Board Treasurer, along with my entire family including grandchildren, cleaned the entire space from top to bottom," said board member Natalie Grosfield.

"We cleaned up the "chiefs," the ones in the lobby and the stage," said Grosfield. "In fact, my son Ty found a quarter placed up on the ledge of one of the "chiefs" and he left it because someone might have left it there for good luck."

The group vacuumed, filled-in paint wherever they could with the paint on hand and generally spruced up the place.

Technical aspects of the radio show included the installation of ISDN (Integrated Service Digital Network) lines that will allow for a live transmission of the show. There was a bit of a challenge to get technical people who could help run the lights and sound as it also is opening weekend for deer hunting. Board member Mary Knox Johnson was able to come up with some stage hands, though.

And Tom Lembrick, an engineer with Lakeland Public Television, has stepped in to help with the show, as well.

"It’s a huge source of pride that Garrison Keillor and ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ chose Bemidji and The Chief Theater as the venue for this week’s show," said Booth.