It was late afternoon Saturday when my girlfriend Morgan and I arrived at the Bismarck Civic Center. We were there to see a live performance of "A Praire Home Companion," and we were in costume. Morgan was an elegant vampire with normal human teeth (everywhere we went, costume vampire teeth were sold out) and I was a 1940s journalist. I wore a fedora with a press card in the band, a leather trench coat and a tie and carried a stainless steel flask.
We went inside and found our seats, four rows back from the stage. We were rather lucky, as were the two random souls we’d plucked out of the ticket line and given our two extra tickets (Long story). My, weren’t they surprised.
The view was fantastic, and we looked around while we watched the band tune their instruments.
About 15 minutes before the show began, host Garrison Keillor came our with Andra Suchy to warm up the crowd. Suchy is a native N.D., having grown up on a farm south of Mandan. They sang "I can’t help help falling in love with you" and another song before the broadcast began. Suchy, who has been on APHC several times before in other locations, performed several more songs during the show.
The show began with the trademark "Tishomingo Blues" and Keillor introduced act after act. There were The Radio Stars, a North Dakota group led by Merrill Piepkorn, the fellow whom you can hear most every day on Prairie Public. Their first two songs were all right, but their performance of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" near the end of the show was great. Gregg Temple (at far right in this photo) got a lot of laughs from how nutty he was with the guitar licks on that song.
Soprano Maria Jette also performed several songs, including a disturbing version of "Nessun Dorma," in which she describes murdering a tenor so she could sing her favorite song and then getting away with it. She was just kidding about the murder part. I think.
Note the hand sticking out of the piano behind her.
There was also Janet Sorenson, a yodeler who performs music for River Heights Lutheran Church in Minnesota.
Keillor actually did some nice things for North Dakota with this show. He talked up our economy and low unemployment rate during the opening and later on brought a woman on stage to describe life in Bismarck. The woman, Becky Borczon, said she’d moved there from New York, loved her new life and said she hoped that too many people wouldn’t move there.
There was also a segment where Keillor is supposedly killed by ghosts for having mocked North Dakota in jokes and winds up walking "these hills in big red shoes." I should also note that many of the songs made references to North Dakota cities and landmarks, and one of the skits spoke of how North Dakota’s giant animal statues, including the "World’s Largest Buffalo" in Jamestown, come to life every year on Halloween.
The "News from Lake Wobegon" segment was much better this time compared to last year when Keillor just rehashed his book, "Pontoon" into monologue form. I recommend a listen.
The show ended and the floor section of chairs was cleared off to make room for a dance floor. We danced. We laughed. We watched the evil laugh competition. (One Jamestown woman managed to terrify the entire building when Keillor said women couldn’t make evil noises).
Morgan and I stuck around for a while, dancing and scoring some loot from AARP.
We admired plenty of other costumes. There were many rather funny costumes, like a pair of parents in chef’s toques who carried their baby around. The baby was dressed as a giant red lobster. Keillor looked at their get-up and said "Call child services!" while out mingling with the crowd. There were also a couple of takes on the swine flu, like this couple:
Eventually, our feet got tired and we decided to leave. We stopped at a KFC on our way out of town. Inside there was a fellow in costume, wearing a leather jacket and an odd hat. He took one look at me and exclaimed "Hey, you’re a pimp too!"
"No, I’m worse." I replied. "I’m a reporter."