Monday, January 19, 2009

A Prairie Home Companion

Current mood: accomplished
Category: Goals, Plans, Hopes
I wanted to write this on Sunday morning, the day after the live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, so I could write with the same exuberance I wrote my Elvis Costello blog. When I woke up on Sunday morning, I knew it wouldn't be quite the same because I actually got a great night's sleep. Playing with Elvis Costello was so unexpected that I was buzzed for three days straight after he called me.

I have to type this so I can believe it: Saturday night, I played a sold-out show at the Palace Theatre. My favorite venue. Wow. That felt good.

Granted, the show was mostly sold-out before my appearance was announced, so I'm well aware I wasn't the star attraction.

But looking out into those lights, singing my original music, looking over my shoulder to see Guy's All-Star Shoe Band reading charts of songs I composed, and hearing almost three thousand people laughing at my lyrics (laughing where they are supposed to laugh), was an absolute dream come true. I looked over at Garrison Keillor during "Future Mr. Used-to-Be" and saw him dancing and watching me sing.

Several things about A Prairie Home Companion make me happy. The first is the mere fact that it exists. It overjoys me that over four million people tune into a weekly two-hour variety show on the radio. The show is so simple. Great writing, intelligent humor, Fred Newman's uncanny sound effects, Garrison Keillor's hilarious novelty songs, Susan and Tim's ability to imitate anyone, and the unbelievable skills of Guy's All-Star Shoe Band.

I've listened to that show for years, and I've always thought my music would be a good fit for the APHC audience. My songs are a little, um, quirky, I suppose, much in the same way that APHC sketches are. I couldn't have been happier when I got a call from them.

Tech rehearsal on Friday was glorious. I brought my own upright bass player, Louisville's own Danny Kiely, but was supposed to use Guy's All-Star Shoe Band for the rest of my accompaniment. They were all monster players and had perfectly arranged charts to my songs ready to play. The songs sounded amazing on the very first run-through, so really we just relaxed and had a good time playing on-stage at the Palace.

The Palace is my favorite place to see a big concert because it feels intimate. It's an intricately-designed baroque style theatre that looks like an Italian Villa on a starry starry night. From stage, the sculptures and planetarium are still visible, but you suddenly realize how huge the theatre is. There are almost three thousands seats and the balcony is far far away. I remember looking over at Shannon Lawson, who sang a duet with me, and just grinning wildly and saying, "We're playing the Palace!" Then I thought: wait, this guy has played arena tours as a solo artist; he's probably not impressed. But there's something magical about the Palace, and there's something magical about A Prairie Home Companion. He was smiling as big as I was.

Let me know move on to another favorite topic of mine: catering. Throughout the two-day rehearsal/performance, there was Vegan Butternut Squash Lasagna, Vegan chili, cajun tofu sandwiches, vegan cookies and brownies, and all kinds of fruits and veggies. I was almost brought to tears thinking that my friends at the radio station must have remembered my strange veggie eating habits. But of course, it wasn't for me ... it was for a cast member who also eats no meat. He and I bonded over that for a while, and I pigged out, relishing the fact that I wasn't going to eat a tomato sandwich and a salad like I usually have to do in these situations.

After rehearsing with the Shoe Band, I sat around and jammed with them a bit on the musical saw. We played a bit of "The Swan" from Carnival of the Animals. Then we played "Over the Rainbow" and entranced the whole crew in the Palace. I had a bit of deja vu from when I soundchecked with Elvis Costello there and the crew did the same thing -- basically a collective "what the hell is she doing with that saw??!?!"

Though I had originally rehearsed four songs for the show, when Garrison heard me playing "Over the Rainbow" on the musical saw, the decision was made to cut an original and play that instead. It turned out to be a big hit of the show, so that goes to show you the wise man that Garrison Keillor is.

Speaking of Garrison, people keep asking me about him, and I don't quite know how to describe him. The best way, I think, is that he's like that strange but brilliant boy in class who always says just the right things, but whom everyone else thinks is a bit kooky. I like the strange but brilliant ones. I liked Garrison.

Patty Loveless and her band also played the show. They were great fun to hang out with backstage. We had to drag Shannon away from Patty's guitar/fiddle player, Garry. Those two toured together back during Shannon's arena-touring days, and they were reminiscing about days on the tour bus singing old-timey bluegrass songs. Patty was extremely gracious and sang her tunes brilliantly. What a voice.

Funny, it didn't occur to me that I was sharing a stage with Patty Loveless until after the show when people asked if I was nervous to follow her. Either I'm overly confident or my mind was just a blur. Or maybe I wasn't nervous because it's not a competition. Or because I was on-stage doing what I'm completely comfortable doing: playing music and singing for a crowd. If you'd asked me to stand on my hands or recite the quadratic equation, I would have been nervous. But ask me to sing my own songs for a crowd of three thousand and four million more radio listeners? Cake. I can do that.

Highlights:
- Playing a musical saw solo on "Powdermilk Biscuits"
- Standing in the green room with Patty Loveless, both of us with tepid tea and clueless as to how to open the microwave door. Thanks, Charles, for opening it for us. We were just testing you, really.
- Looking down from stage to see my friend Allison sitting in the absolute front row center. How did she get those tickets? Even my parents were Row K.
- Playing the gorgeous 9-foot Steinway concert grand piano.
- Telling Garrison on-air that "Future Mr. Used-to-Be" is "Not about you, I promise." I am such a flirt.
- Going out with some of the cast afterwards and watching my Louisville friends accost Fred Newman, Mr. Sound Effects with various sound challenges. My favorite of all was Dan who said: "Ok. A cat and a pickle jar going through a wood chipper." Fred stared at him, and I was slightly embarrassed. But then he started making bizarre sounds that sounded like, well, a cat and a pickle jar going through a wood chipper. He then commented that my friends are smart.
- Seeing my name on a private dressing room door. No gold star, but it still made me happy.

I actually think my favorite thing of all was that I think I represented Louisville well to the APHC crew and audience. We're a strange town, but we know how to have fun. And I'm a strange girl, but I know how to have fun. I think Garrison and the gang picked up on all of that.

What's next? I've got several projects up my sleeve, including a couple of new records and lots of touring.

In all seriousness, I would love to do a house concert tour. Or maybe a tour of small non-night-club venues. I like the Prairie Home crowd ... a listening room. Please message me if you're interested in hosting a house concert in your town, no matter where you live, big or small.

You can hear the broadcast on the Prairie Home Website, where my name is currently misspelled, but I'm hoping they fix it: http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/programs/2009/01/17/


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