At once warm, mysterious, gracious, and awkward….He stood in front of me, politely leaning in to accommodate my smaller height. No doubt something he had learned at a young age, to invite those most of us shorter than him, not to be intimidated. He has one wild roving eye. Which will at first be hidden by a cap, or by his hair. But as soon as he leans in to say hello the endearing truth about him is poignant. His hair unabashedly disheveled. So much so, that I was wondering if he had frozen it immediately out of bed with hairspray, like we did in the 80’s, when we were trying to achieve a certain look.
I was standing in front of Garisson Keillor, creator of the world renowned Prairie Home Companion radio show. My heartbeat raced and faced flushed. For this is the man my late father, and so many others, adored and listened to regularly on the radio. Dad would sit in the kitchen and chuckle and raise his finger in agreement, he was always very engaged in the show, like hundreds of thousands of others across the globe.
I had been invited to go up to the twin city and sing with him, as a representative from Nashville. I was a regular staff-band singer at the Grand Ol Opry,which made me a likely candidate for this gig.
It required steady nerves, as there would be thousands of radio listeners and online viewers around the world. Not to mention my whole family. This fact I found to be quite ominous once I was standing up there waiting to read a few lines from a script. Yes, a talking part. They handed a script to me almost as soon as I showed up. I didn’t have any experience with this. My heart had crept up into the base of my throat and was throbbing intensely. I was thinking about my bad haircut that looked like a mullet. I was thinking about self sabotage,vanity, pride, and a scratchy feeling throat. And, I was thinking about Jesus…which helped calm my nerves a bit, as usual.
I had spent the previous evening studying Patsy Cline, George Jones, Melba Montgomery, Buddy Holly, and Dolly Parton. We were scheduled to rehearse these tunes and i wanted to show my respect for this genre. A northerner at birth, yes….but now I had been living in the South long enough to have developed a fierce love of these classic songs.
Before the weekend had begun, I had a pretty clear picture of how it would go. One hard straight line of rehearsing, sleep, rehearsing, eat, perform the show, no second chances….sleep, then get on a plane and be home again. I’d done enough of this type of “work” in my life to have a realistic notion about it.
In order to have a better show I had rehearsed in my mind, the exact outcome that I hoped for… a happy and relaxed composure, before,during , and after the show. And a smile on my face. Smiling is a very powerful drug. It cures all kinds of ills. It banishes negativity from the brain. It makes others relax….Long ago I had learned the discipline of forcing a smile until the magic kicked in. Tonight it was working.
So there I was, standing next to an American Icon, nerves like electricity, heart in my throat, shy smile on my face, waiting to read the few lines I had in front of me. Garrison is such a relaxed guy it was hard to be nervous. His composure was reassuring. I was content with our musical performances. It's a delicate thing, singing with him…. challenging, humbling, and beautiful.
I have yet to listen back to the program. Listening back to the show would make the glow fade. Getting caught up in minutia would not be a good idea. Prairie Home Companion has kept alive an invaluable piece of American history and culture. That is the big picture.
Something the global audience wouldn’t know, is that after the radio and the world wide web was shut down, we lined up across the stage, held hands, bowed for a second time, and sang an 8 minute version of Glory Hallelujah….with robust audience participation.
That is the even bigger picture.
His truth is marching on.
To contact Kim please email her at: Kimparentmusic@gmail.com