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Wednesday, April 1, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Garrison Keillor, on final ‘Prairie Home’ tour, given fond Spokane sendoff

Garrison Keillor sings a song with the crowd before the start of his show at the INB Performing Arts Center in Spokane on Saturday. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Garrison Keillor sings a song with the crowd before the start of his show at the INB Performing Arts Center in Spokane on Saturday. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

A sold-out crowd packed the INB Performing Arts Center on Saturday to get one last look at the man who has brought them tales from Lake Wobegon, stories from private eye Guy Noir and toe-tapping music for 42 years.

Garrison Keillor, who has hosted “A Prairie Home Companion” on National Public Radio since 1974, broadcast his show live from Spokane one last time before he retires in July. After his departure the show will be taken over by Chris Thile, who has been a guest host in the past.

“I’m hoping that’s not true,” Lorilee Gill said about Keillor’s retirement.

Gill and her husband, Rick, have listened to Keillor’s show for 30 years and saw his show once about 20 years ago. They wanted one last shot at seeing him live and hearing his stories in person.

“We listen to him all the time on the radio,” she said. “It harkens back to my childhood in Missouri.”

Keillor mixed humor and politics onstage, making jokes and singing a song about House Speaker Paul Ryan’s meeting with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Ryan meeting with Trump must have been like meeting the man your daughter wants to marry in a Scientologist Church, Keillor said.

“But he’s very nice and you make the best of it,” he said.

At its core, the show celebrates music, and Saturday’s special guests were the Elvin Bishop Trio. Bishop is a founding member of Chicago’s Paul Butterfield Blues Band and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame.

The crowd seemed to enjoy Keillor’s easy jokes and multiple references to Spokane in his monologue and in songs and comedy sketches.

In a note Keillor wrote for the show’s program, he said he’s had a connection to Spokane dating back to the 1950s when his family used to drive here to visit relatives.

No show would be complete without news from Lake Wobegon, a fictional town in Minnesota that Keillor created decades ago. He spoke without notes or a script for that portion of the show, deftly touching on multiple characters the crowd likely knew fondly.

Jane Corbett enjoys “A Prairie Home Companion” so much that she was willing to travel to Minnesota to see Keillor, but then learned about the show in Spokane.

“We were not disappointed,” she said after the show.

Keillor didn’t talk about his impending retirement onstage, but he wrote about it in his note to the audience.

“I plan to ride the Coast Starlight up the coast from Los Angeles and take the eastbound Empire Builder and wave as I come through Spokane,” he wrote. “I will miss singing duets with women and standing in front of a crowd sitting still as I toss little pebbles into the pond.”

But until July, people can still tune in to National Public Radio every Saturday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. to listen to Keillor host a live broadcast or hear a recorded version from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays. There will still be more chances to hear him give the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.

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