Keillor boosts Vermillion Saturday on Prairie Home

Keillor boosts Vermillion Saturday on Prairie Home
Garrison Keillor proved to be both an entertainer and Chamber of Commerce representative for Vermillion Saturday as he broadcast his Prairie Home Companion radio show live from the DakotaDome.

"I am from Minnesota, I make no secret of it," he said during a pre-broadcast discussion with his capacity audience. "People here have been very kind, very accepting and I am grateful for that. What Coyotes do to Gophers � I don't even want to think about that," he said, referring to the sports mascots of USD and University of Minnesota.

Looking up at the high, arched roof of the DakotaDome, he admitted that "he didn't know how he felt about domed buildings.


"I grew up in a time when there was a winter, and it kind of shapes who you are," Keillor said. "We had more winter in Minnesota than you have here, I'm not sure. There was nothing to stop that wind from Manitoba except barbed wire, and that didn't help much."

There were no "casual fans" of football games in Minnesota, because you had to sit outside wrapped in a quilt � one couldn't sit inside a domed stadium.

Vermillion, he said, "is a treasure of a town for a kid to grow up in. You have two rivers in one town � you have the little Vermillion River and then you've got big Missouri which is down below the bluff. You've got the high part of town where the businesses and the county courthouse and all of the busy serious stuff is located, and you've got the river bottoms down below."

Downtown Vermillion, he said features old buildings with beautiful antique masonry. "And you've got The University of South Dakota," he said. "It just couldn't get any better."

The radio show was filled with the homespun humor that's become a trademark of Prairie Home. There were skits about a band of settlers arriving in Vermillion to find only two bars were available for them to visit to quench their thirst � one was a highly politically correct place frequented by Democrats, the second was more informal and home to the town's Republicans � all six of them.

One of their radio adventures recreated a scene that might have taken place a century ago, with Lewis admonishing Clark for his terrible spelling in his journal.

Naturally, a bit of embellishment was included in some of Keillor's descriptions of Vermillion to his national audience.

The DakotaDome, according to Keillor, is a natural stone formation that Lewis and Clark noted in their journals, and is about the size of five football fields. It was hollowed out during the Ottoman Period in South Dakota, he added.

The facility includes features that only a person with a wild imagination like Keillor could sell to his audience.

His tale grew more and more bizarre, thanks to the help of sound effects master Fred Newman. People visit the dome during South Dakota's harsh winters, Keillor said, to surf on the wave machine in the dome's "artificial lagoon."

Farmers come in after chores, he said, to swim with the dolphins in the dome, and take rides on a Tilt-A-Whirl which throws them into the water.

At one end of the dome is a rain forest, he added, filled with wildlife.

"The university uses this for sports when it isn't being used for others things," Keillor said. "Students hold track meets in the dome, and motorcycle races are also held here."

There are places to play racquetball, and "tractor dancing takes place here every Friday night," he said.

Another added sport in the DakotaDome, he said, is intercollegiate cow tipping.

The dome features a climbing wall which is a life-sized replica of Mount Rushmore, and around its edge runs the Badlands roller coaster.

"It's a beautiful place, the DakotaDome," Keillor said. "I see a few buffalo roaming down over there; no discouraging words from anybody, and I actually see some deer and antelope playing � they are playing ping-pong. They have the paddles attached to their antlers."

Keillor talked about one of Vermillion's claim to fame � Lewis & Clark visited here and shot their first buffalo. They also journeyed a few miles north of where Vermillion is located to climb Spirit Mound.

"They looked around, and observed that all the land around here was pretty flat," he said.

Dinosaur bones have been found west of Vermillion, he said.

"They died because they were bitten to death by flies," Keillor said.

The stars of the show were professional musicians who were given the opportunity to play part of of the most unique collection of instruments in the world supplied by the National Music Museum of Vermillion.

Pat Donohoe strummed a 1948 Martin guitar, and Tim Sparks shared a selection from a 1944 Gibson Southerner Jumbo guitar and a 1902 Gibson prototype guitar.

Donohoe also played beautiful melodies from a John D'Angelico jazz guitar, " a Chrysler building of a guitar," he said.

The musicians also played a Martin guitar with links to Merle Travis and Johnny Cash.

The evening's highlights included performances by Nick Curry on "The King," the world's oldest known surviving violoncello, crafted in Europe in 1545 and played by King Charles IX of France in 1562.

"Through wars and persecutions, plagues,

The coming and going of great lives,

The rise and fall of nations,

Music, the beloved art, survives," Keillor said, reading a poem he wrote in honor of the rare instrument.

Musical selections were also played by Custer's Last Band, a group of musicians who played Civil War era brass instruments and music played for Gen. George Armstrong Custer. The instruments and music are part of the collections at the National Music Museum.

Keillor wrapped up his radio broadcast by singing songs that were popular when Laura Ingalls Wilder was growing up in DeSmet.

The audience participated in the show's closing number, as the radio host led them in the singing of America, the Beautiful.

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