National Geographic: Take in the State Fair

Original Publish Date: July 2009

The state fair is a ritual carnival marking the end of summer and gardens and apple orchards and the start of school and higher algebra and the imposition of strict rules and what we in the north call the Long Dark Time. Like gardening, the fair doesn’t change all that much.

The big wheel whirls and the girls squeal and the bratwursts cook on the little steel rollers and the boys slouch around and keep checking their hair. It isn’t the World’s Columbian Exposition, the Aquarian Exposition, the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, the Exposition Universelle, the Gathering of the Tribes, or the Aspen Institute. It’s just us, taking a break from digging potatoes.

The Ten Chief Joys of the State Fair are:

1. To eat food with your two hands.

2. To feel extreme centrifugal force reshaping your face and jowls as you are flung or whirled turbulently and you experience that intense joyfulness that is indistinguishable from anguish, or (as you get older) to observe other persons in extreme centrifugal situations.

3. To mingle, merge, mill, jostle gently, and flock together with throngs, swarms, mobs, and multitudes of persons slight or hefty, punky or preppy, young or ancient, wandering through the hubbub and amplified razzmatazz and raw neon and clouds of wiener steam in search of some elusive thing, nobody is sure exactly what.

4. To witness the stupidity of others, their gluttony and low-grade obsessions, their poor manners and slack-jawed, mouth-breathing, pop-eyed yahootude, and feel rather sophisticated by comparison.

5. To see the art of salesmanship, of barking, hustling, touting, and see how effectively it works on others and not on cool you.

6. To see designer chickens, the largest swine, teams of mighty draft horses, llamas, rare breeds of geese, geckos, poisonous snakes, a two-headed calf, a 650-pound man, and whatever else appeals to the keen, inquiring mind.

7. To watch the judging of livestock.

8. To observe entertainers attempt to engage a crowd that is moving laterally.

9. To sit down and rest amid the turmoil and reconsider the meaning of life.

10. To turn away from food and amusement and crass pleasure and to resolve to live on a higher plane from now on.

The Midwest is State Fair Central, and it thrives here because we are the breadbasket of America, Hog Butcher, Machinemaker, Stacker of Particleboard, Player With Chain Saws, Land of the Big Haunches. And also because Midwesterners are insular, industrious, abstemious, introspective people skittish about body contact, and a state fair is liberation from all of that, a plunge into the pool of self-indulgence, starting with a thick pork chop hot off the grill and served on a stick with a band of crisp brown fat along one side. The fat is not good for you. You eat the pork chop, fat and all, and your child eats her pork chop, and then you score a giant vanilla shake from the Dairy Bar to cushion the fall of a bagful of tiny doughnuts. Now you’re warmed up and ready to move on to the corn dog course.

But first here is a flume ride your child is agitating for, so you climb onto a steel raft and plunge into a concrete gorge and over a waterfall, and a two-foot wave washes over the gunwales, and now your pants are soaked. You disembark. You look like a man who could not contain his excitement. For cover, you hide in the crowd. You walk close behind people. You join the throng at the hot-corn stand and comfort yourself with a salty ear of buttered corn. Your pants chafe. You wander among booths of merchandise looking for men’s pants and find encyclopedias, storm windows, lawn mowers, vegetable peelers and choppers, humidifiers, log splitters, and home saunas. Your search for dry pants leads you through buildings where champion jams and jellies are displayed on tables draped with purple, blue, red, yellow ribbons, and also champion cakes (angel food, Bundt light, Bundt dark, chiffon, chocolate, chocolate chiffon, German chocolate, jelly roll, pound, spice, sponge, vegetable, or fruit) and pickles (beet, bean, bread-and-butter, cucumber sweet, dill without garlic, dill with garlic, peppers sweet, peppers hot, watermelon). And through an education pavilion where headhunters lie in wait for you to pause and make eye contact, and they leap on you and make you hear about the benefits of beautician training, the opportunities in the field of broadcasting.

The way to dry out your pants is to get on a motorized contraption that whirls you through the air. Your child suggests you ride the giant Slingshot that is across the street. A long line of dead-end kids wait to be strapped into a cage and flung straight up in the air. The mob of onlookers waiting for the big whoosh looks like the crowds that once gathered to watch public executions.

You pass up the Slingshot for the double Ferris wheel. An excellent clothes dryer, lifting you up above the honky-tonk, a nice breeze in your pants, in a series of parabolas, and at the apex you look out across the gaudy uproar and the blinking lights, and then you zoom down for a close-up of a passing gang of farm boys in green letter jackets and then back up in the air. You tell your child that this Ferris wheel is the ride that, going back to childhood, you always saved for last, and so riding it fills you with nostalgia. She pats your hand. “You’ll be all right, Dad,” she says. After ten minutes you come down nice and dry, and also the food has settled in your stomach, and you’re ready for seconds.

Of the Ten Joys, the one that we Midwesterners are loath to cop to is number three, the mingling and jostling, a pleasure that Google and Facebook can’t provide. American life tends more and more to put you in front of a computer screen in a cubicle, then into a car and head you toward home in the suburbs, where you drive directly into the garage and step into your kitchen without brushing elbows with anybody. People seem to want this, as opposed to urban tumult and squalor. But we have needs we can’t admit, and one is to be in a scrum of thinly clad corpulence milling in brilliant sun in front of the deep-fried-ice-cream stand and feel the brush of wings, hip bumps, hands touching your arm (“Oh, excuse me!”), the heat of humanity with its many smells (citrus deodorant, sweat and musk, bouquet of beer, hair oil, stale cigar, methane), the solid, big-rump bodies of Brueghel peasants all around you like dogs in a pack, and you—yes, elegant you of the refined taste and the commitment to the arts—are one of these dogs. All your life you dreamed of attaining swanhood or equinity, but your fellow dogs know better. They sniff you and turn away, satisfied.

Some state fairs are roomier, some gaudier, but there is a great sameness to them, just as there is a similarity among Catholic churches. No state fair can be called trendy, luxurious, dreamy—none of that. Nothing that is farm oriented or pigcentric is even remotely upscale.

Wealth and social status aren’t so evident at the fair. The tattooed carnies who run the rides have a certain hauteur, and of course if you’re on horseback, you’re aristocracy, but otherwise not. There is no first-class line, no concierge section roped off in the barns. The wine selection is white, red, pink, and fizzy. Nobody flaunts his money.

The state fair, at heart, is an agricultural expo, and farming isn’t about getting rich, and farmers discuss annual income less than they practice nude meditation on beaches. Farming is about work and about there being a Right Way and a Wrong Way to do it. You sit in the bleachers by the show ring and see this by the way the young women and men lead their immaculate cows clockwise around the grumpy, baggy-pants judge in the center. They walk at the cow’s left shoulder, hand on the halter, and keep the animal’s head up, always presenting a clear profile to the judge’s gaze, and when he motions them to get in line, the exhibitors stand facing their cows and keep them squared away.

You and I may have no relatives left in farming, and our memory of the farm, if we have any, may be faint, but the livestock judging is meaningful to us—husbandry is what we do, even if we call it education or health care or management. Sport is a seductive metaphor (life as a game in which we gain victory through hard work, discipline, and visualizing success), but the older metaphor of farming (life as hard labor that is subject to weather and quirks of blind fate and may return no reward whatsoever and don’t be surprised) is still in our blood, especially those of us raised on holy scripture. The young men and women leading cows around the show ring are relatives of Abraham and Job and the faithful father of the prodigal son. They subscribe to the Love Thy Neighbor doctrine. They know about late-summer hailstorms. You could learn something from these people.

Twilight falls on the fairgrounds, and a person just suddenly gets sick of it all. You’ve spent hours gratifying yourself on deep-fried cheese curds, deep-fried ice cream, testing one sausage against another, washing them down with authentic American sarsaparilla, sampling your child’s onion rings, postponing the honey sundae for later, and now it is later, and the horticulture building and the honey-sundae booth are four blocks and a river of humanity away. You and the child stand at the entrance to the midway, barkers barking at you to try the ringtoss, shoot a basketball, squirt the water in the clown’s mouth and see the ponies run, win the teddy bear, but you don’t want to win a big blue plush teddy bear. You have no use for one whatsoever. There is enough inertia in your life as it is. And now you feel the great joy of revulsion at the fair and its shallow pleasures, its cheap tinsel, its greasy food. You are slightly ashamed of your own intake of animal fats. Bleaugh, you think. Arghhhh. OMG. You have gone twice to ATMs to finance this binge, and you regret that. No more of this! You take the child’s hand. There will be no honey sundae tonight, honey. We got all that out of our system. We are going home and sober up and get busy.

You hike toward where you recollect you parked your car this morning, and by a stroke of God’s grace you actually find it, and your child does not have to watch a father roaming around pitifully, moaning to himself. You get in, and you drive back to the world that means something, the world of work. The Long Dark Time is coming, and you must gather your herds to shelter and lay in carrots and potatoes in the cellar.

The fair is gone the next day, the rides disassembled, the concessions boarded up, the streets swept clean. Dry leaves blow across the racing oval, brown squirrels den up in the ticket booths, the midway marquee sways in the wind. You drive past the fairgrounds a few days later on your way to work. It looks like the encampment of an invading army that got what booty it wanted and went home. And now you are yourself again, ambitious, disciplined, frugal, walking briskly, head held high, and nobody would ever associate you with that shameless person stuffing his face with bratwurst and kraut, mustard on his upper lip, and a half-eaten deep-fried Snickers in his other hand. That was not the real you. This is. This soldier of the simple declarative sentence. You have no need for cheap glitter and pig fat and pointless twirling. You have work to do. Onward. 

Available Now: BOOM TOWN by Garrison Keillor!

In Garrison Keillor’s newest novel, Boom Town, we return to Lake Wobegon, famous from decades of monologues on the classic radio show A Prairie Home Companion.

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Lake Wobegon is having a boom year thanks to millennial entrepreneurship—AuntMildred’s.com Gourmet Meatloaf, for example, or Universal Fire, makers of artisanal firewood seasoned with sea salt. Meanwhile, the author flies in to give eulogies at the funerals of five classmates, including a couple whom he disliked, and he finds a wave of narcissism crashing on the rocks of Lutheran stoicism. He is restored by the humor and grace of his old girlfriend Arlene and a visit from his wife, Giselle, who arrives from New York for a big love scene in an old lake cabin.

 

Praise for Boom Town:

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“You can’t go home again unless you’re Garrison Keillor and home is Lake Wobegon. Then, of course, it is imperative that you do so—and we are fortunate indeed to tag along and share in the final chapter of the most fascinating and compelling characters ever conjured from the most vivid imagination of America’s greatest storyteller!

In Boom Town, we are invited to catch up as Garrison gets caught up with all of those beautifully flawed human beings that populate and promulgate their mythical town where all the women are finally accounted for, all the men are self-realized or died trying, and all the children are still way above average.” —Martin Sheen

 

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A Wednesday drive in the old neighborhood

Another perfect summer and despite all there is to be forlorn about, I feel the same mindless happiness I remember from when I was 20 and running around Minneapolis in a red Mustang with a girl named Maggie and listening to the Cleftones and Cadillacs, the Coasters, the Drifters singing, “Out of the sun, we’ll be havin’ some fun. People walking above, we’ll be making love under the boardwalk.” We had no boardwalk at Lake Calhoun but there were dim places where we sat and necked. She had no plans for me nor did I for her, which was part of the mindlessness. Two young mammals keeping company, enjoying warm weather.

It all came back to me, riding around south Minneapolis Wednesday with my family, looking for the Dairy Queen on 38th Street, two blocks from the Grace & Truth Gospel Hall I attended as a boy in a small separatist sect where I enjoyed the feeling of complete comprehension of absolute truth, from Genesis to Revelation, right up to the age of twelve or thirteen.

Thanks to this upbringing, I have a good ear for the humorless self-righteous and when I got an email from an old friend asking for a donation to a collaborative storytelling collective to create a safe space and healing life-affirming environment for an inclusive group of young people focused on the intentional use of language to deepen self-awareness in the face of stress and trauma, I knew where he was coming from. I don’t object to this, I’m just a harmless old guy cruising around and looking forward to a Dairy Queen.

I did, however, note that in his list of minorities he’d serve, he listed “Dakhota” with a right-leaning accent mark over the o. I’d never seen the word spelled that way and I don’t know how to create that diacritical mark on my computer keyboard. But clearly, though he is white with no Dakhota corpuscles in him that he’s ever mentioned, he was demonstrating his moral superiority as one sensitive to indigenous nuance compared to a bigoted peasant such as myself.

Maggie and I were not inclusive, we were content to be two, both wanting to be writers, and we did tell stories, hers were about bad boyfriends who were too grabby, so I avoided grabbiness and simply held hands and eventually she kissed me and I kissed her back and was careful to make my kisses approximately equal in passion but not try to outdo her. Our safe space was the Mustang and the healing environment was July. In Minnesota you have to suffer a good deal to get to summer and when the perfect days arrive, you owe it to yourself to experience them fully. At the DQ I ordered a medium Butterfinger Blizzard and it was life-affirming.

Lake Calhoun was renamed Bde Maka Ska in honor of the Dakhota and surely it made no sense for Minneapolis to honor John Calhoun, the South Carolinian proponent of slavery and a man with bad hair, but for Maggie and me in the Mustang, the lake had no political significance, it was only a large body of water we looked at as we laid hands on each other. But I’m fine with the name change. Woody Allen was Allan Konigsberg and decided not to be; Allen Ginsberg’s first name was Irwin and a guy named Irwin could not have written “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” he would’ve become an insurance salesman. If Bob Dylan had remained Bob Zimmerman, Columbia Records never would’ve seen him as a poet and visionary and he’d be a cabdriver today. Maybe Maggie has become Starflower Moonbright and is conducting collaborative life-affirming workshops in Fargaux, North Dakhota. I wish her well.

As for me, I am enjoying a mindless summer day in the back seat behind my wife and daughter as we drive through my old neighborhood, eating our Dairy Queens. Some things we know for certain and that’s one. Another is that the two states west of here will never put the h in their names and the right-leaning accent mark over the o. There are good people there but they won’t let Minnesotans tell them how to spell their name. The originalists on the Supreme Court could find that Thomas Jefferson spelled the name with the h and the accent but I say, Live and let live. Enjoy the day. It’s summer.

 

Talking on the phone to Joyce and rejoicing

We sat in the sun and played Scrabble Monday and a few minutes later a vulgar four-letter profanity appeared on my letter rack that I could’ve played for 47 points and did not. I just wasn’t in the mood. I’d spoken on the phone that day with Joyce, a preacher and a favorite cousin of mine. Our grandfathers were brothers, and a long-ago rift between them separated our families for decades and I didn’t meet Joyce until I was an old man. This strange story of two stubborn Scots keeping their distance draws me even closer to her. She’s a student of family history and when we talk Jesus comes easily into the conversation with no change of tone of voice, same as you’d mention your brother or father. He is not in a separate universe.

I’ve tried to say the four-letter word several times and I can’t get it to sound natural, not like my two friends who use it often to bold-face what they’re saying. I don’t object. They’re neighbors and Jesus said to love them so I do, mostly, though the word sounds alarming to me like breaking glass. There’s no kindness about it.

Joyce’s grandfather was in the Navy and mine worked for the railroad and they must’ve heard plenty of profanity but never took up the habit. My grandpa, however, was capable of silent anger of an enduring nature, which his children knew and dreaded. My mother as a girl once sat down in the kitchen window and didn’t notice the fresh blueberry pie on the sill and knocked it out on the lawn and she was terrified her dad would berate her for it. He once got angry at her for being too friendly with boys at school and sent her to transfer to a school where she knew nobody. She forgave him and a few years later she had to confess to him that she was pregnant by the boy who would become my father though they hadn’t said their vows yet.

It was 1936, he was still needed on the farm, his father having died three years before, and she was in nurse’s training. They’d been in love for five years and had no money and one day, driving a double team of horses, he almost broke his neck when the horses bolted and the wagon crashed in the ditch, and he was so elated by his survival he wrote her a long letter describing the mishap — the only sustained narrative I ever knew to come out of my father — and he borrowed his brother’s Model A and drove to the city and a few months later she was pregnant. They lied to Grandpa, said they had eloped, and both families were upset but the storm passed. Grandpa’s anger might have exiled her to a home for unwed mothers and my brother Philip would’ve been adopted and I would not have come into existence. But they were forgiven and the story was kept secret by my 21 aunts and uncles and I never found out until my parents were gone and I was an 70-year-old orphan.

Righteous indignation is the easy part of the Christian faith and the hard part is forgiveness. Our country is caught up in ferocious indignation but there is a more merciful culture among us. We know that our country is a haven for the hopeful. We grieve for the migrant workers who died of the heat in the semitrailer that hauled them up from Mexico. We grieve for the pregnant women trapped in an impossible dilemma. The children in room 112 are still on our minds.

What Grandpa never told my mother was that her mother was pregnant for three months before he married her and the indignation of his family was one thing that drove him to leave Scotland and come to America. This is why Joyce and I are keen about family history. Each of us owes our life to a marvelous combination of circumstances, and mercy and kindness and forgiveness are entwined with it.

The righteously indignant are missing out on comedy, which is at the heart of America and which is about forgiveness. Jews don’t recognize Jesus as Messiah, Protestants don’t recognize the pope, and Baptists don’t recognize each other in the liquor store. I heard that joke from a Baptist when I was a kid and I still love it. Jesus broke bread with sinners and Republicans and we should do likewise.

Here're your orders: make something beautiful

I woke up this morning and my good woman wasn’t gone, she was asleep beside me, I didn’t feel an aching in my head, no blues around my bed. I made coffee, it tasted fine, not like turpentine. I could put gin in the coffee and make it taste like turpentine but why would I? And that’s how I feel about the Six Supremes who’re trying to take us back to the 19th century. No need to grieve over it, November is coming, and the simple solution is to throw the bums out. Elect a Congress with a two-thirds majority in favor of enlarging the Court to fifteen, which will reverse the reversals. Ninety million eligible voters sat out the 2016 election and that’s how we wound up where we are with this ambitious minority in power. So you’re depressed by this turn of events. Think of the Six, staying home with the shades pulled, their spouses and children going to the hair salon accompanied by plainclothesmen with a bulge under the jacket. They know that they are widely despised. They avoid eye contact with passersby. I doubt they’re ordering takeout: some worker at Domino’s sees Alito’s name on the order, she is likely to tamper with the pizza. The Six are not attending concerts. No picnics for them. No long car trips except to Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Clarence and Ginni surely have close friends but after he announced that the Supremes should take a hard look at gay relationships and contraceptives, he must be thinking about the children and grandchildren of the friends, the boy with his hair in a bun, the girl with the tattoos, and what about the paperboy and the waiters at the country club? And what if he takes a wrong turn and runs into the Pride Parade? They might put him on a rainbow blanket and march down the street tossing him in the air, waving his arms and legs, a ridiculous fate for the Leader of the Pack. You and I, my dears, can walk freely through town with a clear conscience, enjoy the breeze in the trees and say hi to the cop on the corner. The Six cannot. The cop is not so friendly, imagining everybody carrying a loaded .45 and if he sees one of the six enablers, he might give them the finger, which so far is protected by the First Amendment. Don’t be disheartened. Deal with the problem. If you’re troubled by inflation, cut back on expenses. Don’t buy sparkling water. Fill up the glass with tap water and if you want bubbles, stick a straw in the water and blow. If you’re depressed by the state of things, skip the news and take a walk beside a large body of water and look at the stars and the moon. The newscaster will say, “Good evening” and then give you fifty-seven reasons why it’s not. Give yourself a break. The Gang of Six is heading for 1845 and I doubt they’ll get to Prohibition before they fade into the sunset and go down in the WWTT chapter of history (What Were They Thinking). The Six couldn’t find abortion mentioned in the Constitution so they dumped Roe but maybe when they go to their physician to deal with their gloominess, they’ll find a medical originalist with a bucket of leeches who’ll bleed them white and administer powerful purgatives until they’re considerably lighter, and thus they will regain their senses and so will we. Meanwhile, remind yourself that other people have thrived under wretched governors so don’t be discouraged. The Duke of Saxe-Weimar threw Bach in jail for daring to think he had individual rights. Dante was sent into exile and he wrote the Inferno so he could put the politician Argenti into the Fifth Circle of Hell. Dostoevsky joined a liberal study group for which, in 1849, he was thrown into prison and sentenced to death by firing squad, and was third in line to be executed when a pardon arrived. He lit out for Paris, London, Berlin, and figured out how to survive, writing Crime and Punishment in serial installments for magazines, avoiding politics. While cruelty is in power, do what Mozart did. Exercise your gifts. Create beautiful things. Wolfgang stayed clear of emperors and did his work and he lives on today and the emperors are just moldy names on marble slabs covered with pigeon droppings. If you can’t write The Marriage of Figaro, write your own marriage and make it a work of art.  

America is missing a holiday maybe

It’s over and gone, but every Midsummer Day I remember the dinner at Hanne and Ole’s farm in Denmark back in 1989 when fifty of us sat in a meadow at long tables with white cloths and good china for a feast of cold soup and salad and white wine, platters of lamb and potatoes, and dessert and coffee, and the Danish lady next to me speaking perfect schoolgirl English, and around ten p.m., as the sky turned dark, we traipsed down to the ocean shore and lit a bonfire and burned a straw witch and all the Danes sang from memory songs they’d known from childhood and we could see far away up the shore, other bonfires, other parties, other witches being burned.

We have no celebration like it in America. There’s no commercial motive behind Midsummer’s Day, no political rationale or religious, it’s about the glory of summer and friendship and the casting out of evil spirits. I was there as an outsider, and in celebration of the day they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. The Danish lady had heard that I was an American author and she read a book of mine and talked about it, which, my being a self-effacing Midwesterner, made me uncomfortable but it was a kind gesture.

Maybe the Fourth could become that sort of celebration. We need some community parties that have a good feeling without a big message. The boomers went in for big music festivals, Woodstock and then the Grateful Dead concerts, thirty thousand people in tribal clothing, seriously stoned, listening to a stoned band on a distorted sound system vamping for twenty-five minutes on a song that was better at four and a half. The Dead concert was not about community, it was about who was not welcome, your parents, teachers, people over thirty.

I attended a strawberry fest once and that was a fine celebration. You pop a big ripe red strawberry in your mouth and you feel your meanness dissipate. That’s why strawberry-rhubarb pie is such a great innovation, combining sweetness and irony. It is a beautiful marriage and marriage, as we know, is the basis of community and the true test of character. The Deadheads were under the drug-induced illusion that they were lonely geniuses, but when old friends and neighbors gather to celebrate, it’s a triumph of hope over experience.

Denmark is a nation of a dozen political parties so you knew there was plenty of stiff disagreement under the surface and, as in any group of people who know each other all too well, various old feuds and misunderstandings and interesting gossip, but they set it aside when the witch is carried in on her pole and consigned to the flames. Let go of the past, summer is here, live these brilliant days one by one, put regret and recrimination behind.

Marriage is a great test and some of us were allowed to retake it until we got it right. To make a life with your most knowledgeable critic is heroic, and the reward is a spacious happiness, no doubt about it. I have no objection to same-sex marriage but it strikes me as a compromise, whereas marrying someone from the other team is a bold move. My parents eloped and married in secret over the opposition of both families and this was a bond between them, they were in love to the very end, though they were as different as could be, a farm boy and a city girl, a stoic and a romantic. My mother loved comedians and laughed at Jack Benny and Lucille Ball and my dad didn’t understand comedy, it struck him as contrary to Scripture. She adored Christmas, he thought it was a pagan aberration, but they worked it out.

And now Jenny walks into the room and asks what I’m writing and she’s going to want me to read it to her and when I do, she’s going to tell me to take out the part about same-sex marriage, that it’ll hurt people’s feelings, but I’m not going to do it. Some of my best friends, et cetera, et cetera, and if you can’t kid your friends, then we have a problem. She and I have been together thirty years and she still mystifies me. We could make Columbus Day into Couples Day: marriage is a voyage into the unknown and when you get there you find out it’s not where you thought you were going, thank goodness.

A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Humor Love & Comedy Tour Old Friends Poetry Prairie Home Christmas Show Solo Songs Stories The Gratitude Tour
Schedule

July 10, 2022

Sunday incl LIVESTREAM

7:30 p.m.

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to Ryman Auditorium on July 10, 2022 with Aoife O’Donovan, Joe Newberry, Heather Masse, Rich Dworsky, Sam Bush, Pat Donohue, Fred Newman, Tim Russell and others. LIVE STREAM AVAILABLE

July 25, 2022

Monday

7:30 p.m.

Brown County Playhouse, Nashville, IN

Nashville, IN

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Nashville, IN for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 27, 22

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

RESCHEDULED Midland Theatre, Newark OH

Newark, OH

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 28, 2022

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Rescheduled The Kent Stage, Kent, OH

Kent, OH

March 4 in Kent, OH Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 30, 2022

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Door County Auditorium, Fish Creek, WI

Fish Creek, WI

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Fish Creek, Wisconsin for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

October 9, 2022

Sunday

7:00 p.m.

Paramount Hudson Valley, Peekskill, NY

Peekskill, NY

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Peekskill NY. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unite us.

October 13, 2022

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL

Champaign, IL

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

November 6, 2022

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

The Bend Theatre, West Bend, WI

West Bend, WI

Garrison Keillor brings his show to West Bend, WI for a performance of sing-a-longs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

December 4, 2022

Sunday

8:00 p.m.

Broward Center for Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Fort Lauderdale, FL for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, July 1, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, July 1, 2022

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jean Stafford was born on this day in 1915. Author of “Boston Adventure,” “The Mountain Lion,” and “The Catherine Wheel.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 30, 2022

On this date in 1864, President Lincoln granted the Yosemite Valley to California for “public use, resort, and restoration.” The Yosemite Land Grant of 1864 marked the first time the federal government set aside land specifically for preservation and recreational use.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, June 29, 2022

On this day in 1613, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned to the ground. The thatched roof caught on fire after a theatrical cannon misfired during a production of Henry VIII.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 28, 2022

It’s the birthday of the man who wrote, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, born in Geneva in 1712.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 27, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 27, 2022

Today marks the birthdays of poets Frank O’Hara (1926), Lucille Clifton (1936), and Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872).

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A Prairie Home Companion: July 2, 2005

A Prairie Home Companion: July 2, 2005

A wonderful 2002 Tanglewood performance, with guests Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Peter Schickele and Inga Swearingen.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, June 26, 2022

Pearl S. Buck was born on this day in 1892. A child of Christian missionaries, raised in China, her novel “The Good Earth” has become a classic.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, June 25, 2022

Anne Frank’s diary was published on this day in 1947. “It’s an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I — nor for that matter anyone else — will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. Still, what does that matter? I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 24, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 24, 2022

Poet Stephen Dunn was born on this day in 1939. He published more than 10 books of poetry before his collection “Different Hours” won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 23, 2022

“Today I have so much to do/I must kill memory once and for all/I must turn soul to stone/I must learn to live again”–Russian poet Anna Akhmatova born in Odessa in 1889.

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Writing

A Wednesday drive in the old neighborhood

Another perfect summer and despite all there is to be forlorn about, I feel the same mindless happiness I remember from when I was 20 and running around Minneapolis in a red Mustang with a girl named Maggie and listening to the Cleftones and Cadillacs, the Coasters, the Drifters singing, “Out of the sun, we’ll be havin’ some fun. People walking above, we’ll be making love under the boardwalk.” We had no boardwalk at Lake Calhoun but there were dim places where we sat and necked. She had no plans for me nor did I for her, which was part of the mindlessness. Two young mammals keeping company, enjoying warm weather.

It all came back to me, riding around south Minneapolis Wednesday with my family, looking for the Dairy Queen on 38th Street, two blocks from the Grace & Truth Gospel Hall I attended as a boy in a small separatist sect where I enjoyed the feeling of complete comprehension of absolute truth, from Genesis to Revelation, right up to the age of twelve or thirteen.

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Talking on the phone to Joyce and rejoicing

We sat in the sun and played Scrabble Monday and a few minutes later a vulgar four-letter profanity appeared on my letter rack that I could’ve played for 47 points and did not. I just wasn’t in the mood. I’d spoken on the phone that day with Joyce, a preacher and a favorite cousin of mine. Our grandfathers were brothers, and a long-ago rift between them separated our families for decades and I didn’t meet Joyce until I was an old man. This strange story of two stubborn Scots keeping their distance draws me even closer to her. She’s a student of family history and when we talk Jesus comes easily into the conversation with no change of tone of voice, same as you’d mention your brother or father. He is not in a separate universe.

I’ve tried to say the four-letter word several times and I can’t get it to sound natural, not like my two friends who use it often to bold-face what they’re saying. I don’t object. They’re neighbors and Jesus said to love them so I do, mostly, though the word sounds alarming to me like breaking glass. There’s no kindness about it.

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Here’re your orders: make something beautiful

I woke up this morning and my good woman wasn’t gone, she was asleep beside me, I didn’t feel an aching in my head, no blues around my bed. I made coffee, it tasted fine, not like turpentine. I could put gin in the coffee and make it taste like turpentine but why would I? And that’s how I feel about the Six Supremes who’re trying to take us back to the 19th century. No need to grieve over it, November is coming, and the simple solution is to throw the bums out. Elect a Congress with a two-thirds majority in favor of enlarging the Court to fifteen, which will reverse the reversals. Ninety million eligible voters sat out the 2016 election and that’s how we wound up where we are with this ambitious minority in power.

So you’re depressed by this turn of events. Think of the Six, staying home with the shades pulled, their spouses and children going to the hair salon accompanied by plainclothesmen with a bulge under the jacket. They know that they are widely despised. They avoid eye contact with passersby. I doubt they’re ordering takeout: some worker at Domino’s sees Alito’s name on the order, she is likely to tamper with the pizza. The Six are not attending concerts. No picnics for them. No long car trips except to Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Clarence and Ginni surely have close friends but after he announced that the Supremes should take a hard look at gay relationships and contraceptives, he must be thinking about the children and grandchildren of the friends, the boy with his hair in a bun, the girl with the tattoos, and what about the paperboy and the waiters at the country club? And what if he takes a wrong turn and runs into the Pride Parade? They might put him on a rainbow blanket and march down the street tossing him in the air, waving his arms and legs, a ridiculous fate for the Leader of the Pack.

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A weekend in the wilds of Connecticut

I have seen some of the future lately and I must admit it’s very appealing to me. My wife drives through Connecticut, a woman’s voice in the dashboard directing her along a twisting route through small towns laid out in the 18th century, a street plan designed to frustrate intruders, and my daughter in the back seat FaceTimes her roommate Saamiya who is in India, visiting relatives. My daughter is drawn to people, loves to be in a group, and the phone is her instrument of choice, and soon Marisa joins from London, and Erin in New Jersey, Hindu, Orthodox, and Jewish, joined in small talk. Remarkable to me, not to her.

“Can you feel how smooth the car runs?” my wife says. She took it to a garage for an oil change two days ago and the garage texted her videos of two very worn tires and an engine that needed retuning and she texted back her consent. The cost was steep but the advance info lessened the shock. I wish I’d been at the marketing meeting that came up with that idea.

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Just a word about Sunday, then I shut up

Father’s Day is a wonderful joke, a day on which you sit with your brood and someone turns to you and says, “When is Father’s Day? Isn’t it in June?” and you, the father, say, “I have no idea whatsoever.” And that’s the end of it. Mother’s Day is the big deal when tanker ships full of French perfume dock at the bottling plants and four-star restaurants hire extra staff and Father’s Day is the Sunday when someone gives you a bottle of cologne that smells like disinfectant. The price tag is still on it, $1.89.

Women, as we know unless we’re in Texas or in the memory unit, run this world. There was never a single object that a man set down that a woman didn’t reach over and move it. Never a sentence came out of a man’s mouth that a woman didn’t correct. Women decide what we shall eat and what we shall sit on or sleep on, and a man’s opinion is of no more use than that of the family cat. This is a major factor in the popularity of gay marriage: two men decide they want to be free and sleep on cotton sheets and not polyester and have dark brown towels and wear festive colors rather than the prison uniforms women buy for us. The sex is an add-on, mainly it’s about exercising personal taste.

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Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit a shirt

As a Midwesterner, I was brought up to be self-effacing and make no demands of anybody. I don’t honk, I don’t wave at the waiter who’s ignoring me, I don’t want to be a problem. Offer me ranch or blue cheese dressing, I say, “Whatever is easier for you, whichever you have more of, whatever nobody else wants.” “Just choose, damn it,” the host says, and I’m tempted to ask for blue cheese but I don’t want to if it deprives someone else of blue cheese who is on the edge of the cliff already and, denied his dressing, might harm himself. “We have plenty of both,” the host says. But now I’m wondering, “What do I have against ranch? Is it my antipathy to cowboy mythology and the fetishization of guns?” And the host screams, “CHOOSE!” And I ask him, “Which one has less impact on the environment?” And he shows me to the door and locks it after me.

Self-effacement is rare in New York where I live. People don’t go around meeking each other as they do back in Minnesota, because here, the Christian faith is an oddball item, as it was in Jesus’s time. It’s a city of Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and a million people who moved here to escape from fundamentalist families, plus other minorities, Sodomites and Gomorrhians, and the people who designed the Tower of Babel and went into the practice of law.

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Looking down the road, seeing the future

It would appear that five of the Supremes are favoring an absolute right to possess any weaponry whatsoever by whoever has the cash, and to bear arms without restriction in schools, churches, shopping centers, aboard airliners, in the courtroom itself, that a right is a right, period. And when the Executive Quintet opens those doors, we’ll see dramatic changes here in the land of the free and home of the brazen, such as the man police apprehended carrying a gun near Justice Kavanaugh’s home last week, with intent to do harm.

We have 400 million guns now and when we get up to a billion, there will be more men with guns than police can apprehend, and it’s safe to say that no parent will send children to school, even one with armed guards. Law enforcement has been overwhelmed in many cities, including Minneapolis, where police have begun to privatize themselves and hire out as freelance security. Education, I suppose, will move online. Millions of people will become consultants and work out of their homes; manufacturing will all go to China. The closing of schools will likely mean the end of interscholastic sports except fencing, sharpshooting, and bowling, which may be useful for self-defense.

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The meaning of life as it dawned on me the other night

I enjoy writing this column every week but how would you know that, me being from Minnesota, from stoical people, brought up to bite our tongue and persevere through suffering, and if pleasure occurs, be patient, it will soon pass. In other parts of the country, our stoicism would be diagnosed as depression. Sedatives are pretty much wasted on us. Joy is a word on Christmas cards, not used in conversation. At games, the cheerleaders only try to keep the crowd awake, and if our team wins, we think, “Well, I guess it could’ve been worse and next time it probably will be.”

We’re people of few words and that’s why we’ve produced very few writers. Fitzgerald was an Easterner born in St. Paul by mistake and he left as soon as he could and never returned. The poet Robert Bly’s big book was Silence in the Snowy Fields, which pretty much says it all, and then he wrote Iron John about plumbing. As for Louise Erdrich, she grew up in North Dakota.

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Recovering from disaster, thanks to my heroes

I’ve been writing nagging hectoring columns about malfeasance in high places lately, and now it’s time to admit I left the water running in the shower three weeks ago and it leaked down to two apartments below us and caused water damage and now insurance adjustors are working out a settlement and I am required to wear a hazard-orange vest with IN THE EVENT OF ERRATIC BEHAVIOR, CALL — and my wife’s phone number written on the back. I distinctly remember turning the water off, but plaster damage below us says otherwise. So I’m not going to write about the federal judge who threw out the mask mandate that led to the steep rise in COVID cases. I have my own problems.

My wife is a forgiving person. She has not filed for guardianship. She kicks my butt at Scrabble but she’s gracious about it. She rations my bacon cheeseburgers. She tells me if I look bedraggled so I don’t walk down the street and people hand me spare change. And she turns out the light at night and rolls over and puts her arms around me. This is better than a Pulitzer Prize. So I don’t wake up in the morning with an aching in my head and the blues all around my bed and the water tastes like turpentine because my good gal left me here cryin’. She didn’t. She has made coffee and she has read the morning paper so that I don’t need to. When you skip the news, life is a lot more like Anne of Green Gables or The House at Pooh Corner.

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Some news, as we know, is realer than others

Uvalde stays in the mind despite all distractions, a pleasant day at a little summer house in Connecticut and Scrabble on the porch and the drive back to Manhattan on the Merritt Parkway with its arched stone bridges dating back to the days when families went for a “drive” for pleasure — it stays because it is so real. I don’t understand economics, Ukraine is far away, climate change is an abstraction, but the terrified parents across the street from their kids’ school hearing gunshots, they are real, and I have a great-niece who is the same age as the kids in room 112 and I imagine her as the girl who lay on the floor among dead classmates and called 911 and said, “Send the police now, please.” That is my niece, a lively independent spirited girl who loves reading and bonds with her grandma and eats like a trucker but is thin as a rail thanks to the intensity of her life. That girl has a name, like the kids in Texas.

The teachers Eva and Irma are real. They are my fourth-grade teachers, Miss Carroll and Mrs. Moehlenbrock. The Border Patrol trooper in the hallway who said to his two colleagues, “Let’s get this done,” and the three of them burst into 112, I know men who would’ve done that. The shooter is completely unreal, a blank shadow.

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Garrison Keillor did “A Prairie Home Companion” for forty years, wrote fiction and comedy, invented a town called Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average, even though he himself grew up evangelical in a small separatist flock where all the children expected the imminent end of the world. He’s busy in retirement, having written a memoir and a book of limericks and is at work on a musical and a Lake Wobegon screenplay, and he continues to do “The Writers Almanac” sent out daily to Internet subscribers (free). 

He and his wife Jenny Lind Nilsson live in Minneapolis, not far from the YMCA where he was sent for swimming lessons at age 12 after his cousin drowned, and he skipped the lessons and went to the public library instead and to a radio studio to watch a noontime show with singers and a band. Thus, our course in life is set. 

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