Prairie Home is coming to Vermillion

Prairie Home is coming to Vermillion
When Garrison Keillor visited Vermillion and the University of South Dakota last October for a speaking engagement, he apparently felt right at home.

Keillor has decided to return on April 29 to broadcast his live and wildly popular radio program A Prairie Home Companion from the DakotaDome.

The show will feature instruments from the collections of the world-renowned National Music Museum.

"He would like to feature some of the instruments, we don't know yet which ones," said Jennifer Jones, a University of South Dakota marketing strategist. "We're in contact with the Prairie Home Companion folks in Minnesota to find out exactly which ones they would like to feature. They do plan for some of the instruments to be played during the Prairie Home Companion radio show.

"That exciting for us, because we don't have a lot of opportunities to have national personalities on campus and so involved with our collections," she said. "The National Music Museum is a treasure, it's one of a kind, it's got a treasure that's completely unique in the nation, if not the world, and to be able to feature those things on such a well-respected radio show is pretty tremendous for us."

The Vermillion performance is sponsored jointly by The University of South Dakota and South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB). Special ticket sales begin for Friends of SDPB, The University of South Dakota and National Music Museum on Feb. 21 through Feb. 25, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. General ticket sales are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 27 through March 3 and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST thereafter. Ticket prices start at $20. Call 1-800-333-0789 for ticket information.

Keillor is the host and writer of A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer's Almanac, both heard on public radio stations across the nation. A Prairie Home Companion, now in its 30th year of production, airs live on Saturdays and features comedy sketches, music and Keillor's signature monologue, "The News from Lake Wobegon." A Prairie Home Companion airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. SDPB Radio, with a repeat Sundays at noon.

A film version of A Prairie Home Companion — featuring Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Tommy Lee Jones and Keillor himself as a radio announcer — is scheduled to be released in early 2006. The film was directed by Robert Altman, with a screenplay by Keillor.

More than a dozen books have been written by Keillor, including Lake Wobegon Days, The Book of Guys, Love Me and Homegrown Democrat, and he is editor of the anthology Good Poems. Good Poems for Hard Times, a follow-up to the 2002 work, was recently published by Viking Books. His weekly current affairs and humor column, The Old Scout, is distributed worldwide by Tribune Media Services.

Keillor was born in Anoka, MN, in 1942. As a student at the University of Minnesota, he got his first on-air experience as a radio announcer at campus station KUOM. After graduating in 1966 with a bachelor's degree in English, Keillor returned to radio three years later, taking a job with Minnesota Public Radio on a classical music program called A Prairie Home Morning Show — named for the Prairie Home cemetery in Moorehead, MN. It was during this time, while researching a piece about Nashville's Grand Ole Opry for The New Yorker, that Keillor envisioned a radio show featuring musical guests and commercials for imaginary products.

On July 6, 1974, Keillor brought that vision to life, hosting the first live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion at the Janet Wallace Auditorium in St. Paul, MN. Over the next 13 years, the program became a weekly fixture at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater, and received the Edward R. Murrow Award, the George Foster Peabody Award and a medal from the American Academy of Arts & Letters.

Feeling the show had run its course, Keillor ended A Prairie Home Companion for a short time in June 1987. Two years later, his unique variety of programming would return to the airwaves under a new name — The American Radio Company — at New York's Brooklyn Academy of Music.

In 1992, Keillor announced he was moving the program back to Minnesota. The following year, the show reverted to its original name, A Prairie Home Companion. Today, more than 550 public radio stations broadcast the program.

Keillor lives in St. Paul with his wife and daughter. He has two grandsons. Keillor was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1994. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters.

Jones expects that USD and SDPB will work as partners to help Keillor with any needed research as he prepares for his April show.

"We will make sure he knows that he knows all of the cultural ins and outs of Vermillion and the surrounding area so he can personalize that as much as he chooses to," she said.

Vermillion has been visited by some folks from the Prairie Home organization, Jones said, largely to check out what will be needed to stage the program inside the DakotaDome.

"Even though Prairie Home is a radio show, it's also a performance for a live audience," she said, "and Garrison Keillor and his company do a marvelous job of making sure that the live audience is just as entertained as the listeners on the radio."

A stage likely will need to be leased and special props will be put in place to make the show an enjoyable experience for the Vermillion audience in the DakotaDome.

"It's not often that we have an opportunity to feature The University of South Dakota and Vermillion in a nationally broadcast television or radio show," Jones said. "This is a very exciting opportunity for the community, for the university and for South Dakota Public Broadcasting."

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