A prairie boy came to the mountains on Saturday night at ParkWest and was greeted like a local boy returning to his roots. At the end of three hours of pure entertainment, the capacity crowd gave Garrison Keillor and guitarist Chet Atkinsa standing ovation. It was their last performance of a 20-city tour and they shortchanged no one.
Not only can Keillor return to Utah any time, but the approving crowd would be very happy in Lake Wobegone, Minn. Resplendent in bright red tie and matching socks, Keillor gazed up the mountainside and said, "A person from the prairie is just slightly uneasy to be surrounded by large land masses. I'm not sure what is behind them." Looking beyond the reserved seats, he said, "Those of you sitting on the grass - there is a cougar problem here."By the time intermission was over, Keillor was completely converted. "This IS paradise. I'm quite sure of it. It is the most beautiful setting for a show we've ever had." Then he gave a special welcome to "the person on horseback - we've never, EVER, had a person in the audience on a horse."
Keillor did not come from "paradise people" - but from people who "only feel good when they are cold and wet and sick to their stomachs. My people were Puritans. They were always suspicious that some people were having a good time somewhere else." (These people "never made love standing up for fear that someone would think they were DANCING.")
True to his theme, he told of picking 57 ears of sweet corn in Lake Wobegone and then eating them "10 minutes from the stalk - the best that life has to offer." On the other hand, he tried "Iowa Chief" corn one year and it was just too sensuous. "You don't want sweet corn that is too good. It might teach young people to try the experience that is second only to sweet corn."
In a hilarious yet profound analysis of gardens, Keillor said all people have times when they are beaten. "What chance would you have if at home all you had to eat were frozen waffles?" He said that "store-bought food is basically sludge - the tomatoes you buy in a store look as if they were strip-mined in Texas."
Famous for National Public Radio's "Prairie Home Companion," Keillor's versatility was evident. With mellow voice, he offered anecdotes, poetry, amusing songs, hymns, and the latest "news" from Lake Wobegone - which is what people really came to hear.
A pre-eminent storyteller, he localized it with a highly detailed account of his February visit to a friend's house in Provo Canyon, where he used the hot tub naked, then couldn't get back in. He lived a "Christian parable" as he sought help from people who didn't trust his appearance.
Chet Atkins, whose 40 years of music has evolved from country guitar to an eclectic modern style that is its own category, blended easily with Keillor. Besides his amazing two string agility on the fiddle, his musical highlight was a diatribe against the hypocrisy of TV preachers, called "Would Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?" ("Would he have another home in Palm Springs? Would he take money from poor folks? Would he admit that he talked to the preachers who SAY they talked to him?")
When it was over, there was warmth and satisfaction in the slow traffic coming down the mountain - the kind that comes from getting your money's worth - or from sweet corn.