A Companion in Garrison Keillor

After walking on stage to thunderous applause, storyteller Garrison Keillor began his “Evening” by leading his audience in song. The Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall filled with voices, as Keillor worked his way through a number of hymns and patriotic songs, finally ending the medley with “I Saw Her Standing There” by The Beatles.

“That was the song I sang to my mother on her deathbed,” Keillor stated matter-of-factly, drawing shocked laughter from the audience.

This reflects the content of Monday night’s “Evening with Garrison Keillor” — profound moments of genuine and engaging storytelling, interspersed with dark and random humor. Keillor spent two hours doing what he does best — talking — and the sizable audience loved every moment of it.

Keillor, best known for creating public radio show “A Prairie Home Companion”, definitely knows how to spin a tale; “Companion” has been on the air for 41 years, with Keillor hosting the two-hour show every Saturday evening. His material on Monday centered mostly around his experiences in storytelling, and how being raised in a small and religious Minnesota town fostered his love of creating and sharing narratives.

“They were frugal people,” Keillor said of his family and the community he grew up in. Painting the picture of a sheltered and prudent upbringing, Keillor said that his family’s lack of wealth brought a value to things that couldn’t be bought; they lived by an economy where stories served as currency. He recounted weekend nights, where family and friends would come over and spent their quality time swapping stories. This fostered in him a love of the spoken word, one that would carry him through his career as a radio personality.

His time with radio in particular came about under accidental circumstances; his mother had enrolled him in swimming classes for the summer, classes that he immediately loathed. Rather than being honest with his mother about his sentiments, he decided to skive off from his lessons to spend his mornings in the library.

Soon enough, he discovered the local radio station down the street had a studio with the space for an audience to watch the show while it was broadcasting. He would then go home with elaborate stories about the boys in swim class to keep up his charade. While he didn’t learn how to swim that summer, he found a new platform for his love of storytelling that would end up being very valuable to him.

Blending reality with fiction, Keillor incorporated the town of Lake Wobegon into his performance. Lake Wobegon, the town in which his radio show is based, takes on a strong persona in nearly all of his works. It exemplifies the charm, creativity and relatability that Keillor himself conveys while onstage. He often begins his tales with a one-liner that, in addition to spurring cheerful giggling throughout the audience, sets the scene for his delve into a fascinating, carefully-crafted anecdote about the trials of an extraordinary character. The listener is immediately hooked. As he continues, the account becomes strikingly more unbelievable until a world of pure fiction is entered.

Garrison Keillor is an odd man. He has a certain presence. It may be his soothing, meant-for-radio voice, his towering build or the look in his eyes that says he has something to share. Whatever it is, Keillor has mastered the art of storytelling; he reads the energy of the room and delivers a moment in which an audience of strangers feels connected by the single thread of his story. Ending his “Evening” with a rousing, audience-wide rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, Garrison Keillor brought everyone in the room together to share more than just a story; an experience.