Star Tribune photo by Leila Navidi
If Garrison Keillor is still smarting from the allegations that stained his legendary career, he's keeping it to himself. The former host of "Prairie Home Companion" returned to the stage Saturday for his first proper local performances since Minnesota Public Radio cut off ties with their biggest name.
If the 76-year-old writer is planning a full-fledged comeback, he's starting with baby steps. His choice of venue was the Dunsmore Room in Fridley's Crooners Lounge and Supper Club, a 90-seat venue so intimate that Keillor was forced to store his coffee mug on a front-row table.
"Welcome to my living room," said Keillor, looking less rumpled than usual in a red tie and blue suit.
Keillor didn't directly address accusations that he had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior while running "Prairie" -- he has repeatedly insisted that MPR over-reacted to the claims -- but it didn't take much to read into his decision to recite from William Shakespeare's sonnet that opens with the lines: "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state."
"Something to recite to your spouse on mornings when it's necessary," he said afterwards, acknowledging later that his wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson was in attendance.
There were no tales from Lake Wobegon, but other staples from his long-running radio show were on display, including covers of folk songs from Midwest-based artists like Ann Reed and Greg Brown. Minneapolis singer Lynn Peterson helped out on numbers like the Beatles' "I Will." At the keyboards was Richard Dworsky, the former "Prairie" muscial director who was recently let go from "Live From Here," the show that has morphed out of the Keillor-led program.
Those who miss hearing wistful stories on Chris Thile's spinoff series got plenty of them during the second of two shows Saturday with Keillor looking back fondly on his Anoka childhood.
"I remember Anoka almost more clearly than anything that's happened in the last 40 years," said Keillor who led the patrons -- almost exclusively white and over 55 -- through a version of the school's fight song.
The centerpiece of his two-hour performance was an anecdote about how he snuck out of the house as a 4-year-old and planted himself on the stool at a local luncheonette, told while he meandered through the unlit audience.
Keillor ended the show with salty limericks and snippets of singalongs like "Happy Trails," and "You Are My Sunshine." It was as if he had never left.
Keillor is scheduled to return to Crooners on Dec. 16 for two more shows and has indicated that at least one of those will be in the restaurant's main room.