Garrison Keillor (GK) is retiring–from hosting A Prairie Home Companion anyway–and he seems to mean it this time. He has a young, wiry (as GK says) protoge’ lined-up, and he has a “final” show or two scheduled, and a Prairie Home cruise to Alaska, and then that’s it as far as we, the fawning public, know.
Now and then GK mumbles something regarding needing to get time to work on some book or the other, so hopefully we won’t be entirely without him.
But in any case, my wife and I took this impending demise of some of our favorite entertainment (the young wiry protoge’ can play music, but can he tell stories?), as a clear sign from on high that we needed to get around to using up some of those long-stashed frequent-flyer miles and go see GK & Co. live before the tide turns here.
Wny did we have to fly you ask? Well, the San Francisco show earlier this year sold out in nanoseconds apparently. So we did what any DI2TSH (Dual Income 2 Teenage Sons) Silicon Valley couple does and turned to the online ticket resale market (the term scalper being too crude, at the time) and found tickets available for merely 400 USclams. Well, that is steep but arguably, if argued hard enough, worth it in this case. Besides, we could take public transit up to the city, and eat afterwords at a cheap dive, or even back at home (beforehands and afterwards). So she was about to click [PURCHASE] when she noticed the “Total Amount” box was displaying a price north of 1600 US-slimy-bait-and-switch-clams. Further inspection revealed the modest “service charge” of 400 additional USclams had been added per ticket. So much for not using the term scalpers–the dirty, rotten, *bleeping* thieves.
Anyway, given her Midwestern politeness and frugality, she simply laughed, declined being robbed–and noted the upcoming show in St. Louis on 18-Jun which nominally fit with our (ahem) insane life schedule. Lying in wait, she pounced on the ticket sales when they opened and we secured the still-not-cheap-but-regularly-priced-non-2nd-mortgate-required-tickets. With those, plus skilled hotel evaluation and selection (she has a future as a travel agent), and the aforementioned frequent-flyer miles, we were set and we wouldn’t have to sell a kid to pay for such unseemly extravagance.
We made it to St. Louis, got some sleep–we’d taken the redeye out–woke up, and made it to the venue, which was the Fabulous Fox Theater–an old, meticulously restored, awesomely ornate, and vast place. Once we stopped gawking, filled out our “greetings” (nope, ours wasn’t picked to be read, unfortunately, tough perhaps better that way because the kids may have found it embarrassing), and found our seats in that vast palace of entertainment, it was great for me to finally see the show live and for her to refresh her memory of seeing it in Minneapolis back in the old days. The show began at 4:45pm local time sharp and GK was in fine form. A feature of seeing the show live is that it begins 15 minutes before air time (5:00pm) and GK opens with a folk-song and hymn sing-along with the audience, to get everyone warmed up I suppose, and let the stragglers find their seats. Then the house lights go out, and a guy in black, with a headset on, wanders out on stage, signals “on air!” to the band, and we’re off.
It was fascinating to watch a live radio show unfold and adapt when, say, one of the guest artists took three attempts to be satisfied with her rendition of her first song. GK rolled with these events and she even did another tune later on; I had wondered if they would politely ask her to go walk the dog or something, but they didn’t and she did fine.
At the end of the show, the “On Air” light went out as the crowd was applauding and then GK launched straight into another tune. As the tune ended, he tried calling it a night, or at least put on airs about doing so by walking off stage, but the musicians didn’t budge and the house lights didn’t come up, and back out he came. This happened again, and on the third time the house lights came up, yet GK strolled back out and said something about “you’ll always have APHC reruns, but I won’t have a live audience!”, and did some more tunes in medley form. He walked off again, musicians stayed put, house lights stayed on, and he wanders out for the fourth time saying something about “ok, one more”. Was this the one where he had the band strike up Great Balls of Fire? I can’t remember now which encore it was they did that tune, but in any case, it was good and he got the audience into singing-along hymns and joked about “please now turn to page 149”, and then launched into another one. I don’t recall which one it was, not having memorized the hymn book when a child going to church, nor being in the choir–but my wife was in the choir (and can really sing well by golly) and she said “you know, i think that hymn is really on page 149!”.
And so after that final medley, GK put his hands together as if in prayer as he headed off stage, looked at the audience, and nodded as to politely say “I do mean it this time”. The musicians stayed put, looking off stage after him, house lights still up, and then they nodded and launched into the prairie home theme and that was it.
So, where’s the serendipity you ask? Well, upon leaving what had become a 2 3/4 hour show, we were looking for a place to obtain some sustenance, otherwise known as grub and suds. We noticed straight down Washington Ave an establishment whose neon sign proclaimed “Jazz” and so headed over in hopes that it might have more than just that. It turned out to be the bistro and lounge for Jazz St. Louis, a Jazz-education non-profit. The show was sold out, but there were a couple seats in the lounge, where one could watch the show by large-screen, and get fed, too. We sat down, anticipating some grub, but soon realized the show was going to be Joey Alexander, a 12 year-old jazz piano phenom, from Indonesia no less. Well, coolio, but let’s get some chow and suds, which we ordered during the opening introduction of the band. I lost my attention regarding ordering when the announcer introduced Eric Harland on drums, one of the top Jazz drummers playing today, but I was hungry and managed to recover and get it done. The bassist, Dan Chmielinski, whom we had not of before AFAIK, seemed of Eric Harland’s generation and knew his way around his instrument. Joey lead them through several tunes–a couple standards, somewhat twisted to his style I came to note–and some originals. Joey has a bright future and I’m going to buy his album, even tough I noticed his feet didn’t touch the floor when sitting on the piano bench and he had to reach for the sustain pedal. He did just fine.
You’ve probably figured it out by now, but I’ll tell you anyway (maybe because I’m a pedant as some say, regardless of any grammatical or punctuation errors hereabouts (I’m in recovery, see/)): the serendipity was having planned to see a talented folksy artist in his sunset years (hopefully a very gradual and productive sunset) and then afterwards accidentally stumble into a show by a ridiculously young, intense jazz artist at the beginning of his, and also seeing live for the first time a particular drummer who has piqued my interest over the last few years.
Not bad for an somewhat impromptu weekend out. We even walked the 3+ miles back to our hotel near The Arch. Icing on the cake, as they say.