published Friday, September 9th, 2011

'A Prairie Home Companion' makes Chattanooga debut on 2011 tour


What: Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" radio variety show Summer Love Tour 2011.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Memorial Auditorium, 399 McCallie Ave.

Admission: $38-$68.

Phone: 642-TIXS.

Venue website:



In addition to creating and hosting "A Prairie Home Companion," Garrison Keillor has written many articles for The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly and He has received the George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished and meritorious public service by a radio personality. He is also the recipient of a Grammy Award and a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1994, he was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.


Sara Watkins is a singer/songwriter and fiddler who was formerly one of the founding members of progressive folk trio Nickel Creek until the band's dissolution in 2007. Now pursuing a solo career, she released her self-titled solo debut in 2009. She served as "A Prairie Home Companion's" first guest host on Jan. 15 and has been traveling as the show's musical guest throughout the Summer Love Tour.

After almost 40 years on the Saturday evening airwaves, radio variety show "A Prairie Home Companion" will finally make its Chattanooga debut Saturday at Memorial Auditorium.

"A Prairie Home Companion" was founded by host Garrison Keillor in July 6, 1974, first airing to an audience of about a dozen people at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. Since then, the show has achieved international reach with about 4 million listeners on about 600 stations in the United States, Canada and Europe.

Although the show is regularly broadcast live, Keillor and company's appearance in Chattanooga will be the second-to-last date of the monthlong, unaired Summer Love Tour 2011.

Being able to perform without worrying about a broadcast schedule has been liberating, Keillor said.

"It means that we're free as birds," he said. "On Saturdays, we have 1 hour 58 minutes and 40 seconds, exactly, and that's all we have.

"On the road, we've been doing a longer show and sort of proceeding at a stately pace. It's sort of a vacation show. It's a vacation from the second hand of the clock."

Even though the show will not be live, Keillor said the audience can expect the same familiar offering of features such as "Guy Noir, Private Eye" and "The Lives of the Cowboys," sound effects by veteran soundman Fred Newman, live musical performances and, of course, "The News From Lake Wobegon." Former Nickel Creek songstress and fiddle player Sara Watkins has been traveling with the show throughout the Summer Love Tour and will be performing Saturday.

Despite hundreds of shows in the last several decades, "A Prairie Home Companion" has never appeared in Chattanooga. Keillor said that he finds it invigorating and educational to take the show on the road, particularly when it means visiting new places, such as the Scenic City.

As he approaches his 70th birthday, Keillor said he has begun to plan a graceful withdrawal from his hosting duties. By July 2013, the show should be in new hands, Keillor said, adding that he'll remain on set to provide encouragement to his replacement.

"My role, as the gray eminence, is to give confidence to people," he said. "I need to be a reassuring presence and tell people that they're doing great and give an opinion, when asked."

It's a "much kinder" transition than keeping it up too long, he added.

"That's what a 70-year-old person should be doing and not standing up there and singing duets about passionate love with a woman in her late 20s, as pleasant as that is, may I say," he said, laughing.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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