Garrison Keillor traipsed around on stage at Sauder Hall on the campus of Goshen College Tuesday night with stories and quips and indisputable truths, and somehow the tumult of politics and talk of economic disaster looming just hours away seemed to fade away.
For nearly two hours, the legendary voice of public radio that has spanned some 40 years, engaged the sold out audience with stories of his childhood, his family, tales of Lake Wobegon and a dash of good advice.
Dressed in a dark suit, patented red tennis shoes and a red tie, Keillor returned for the fist time in 28 years to Goshen College and reminisced about growing up in Minnesota, his impressions of a career in radio, poetry, women and various oddities of life.
But the longtime host of the radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” seemed cognizant of the political realities going on in Washington, D.C.,as the nation makes its way through another government shutdown and stood just hours away from possibly defaulting on its debts. His appraisal was simple:
“Our country, today, is in the midst of such anger. It just breaks your heart. We are among the most blessed people on God’s green earth. We Americans, living in an enormous, rich country, we have so much that the rest of the world would love to have and we cause so much trouble for ourselves. We invent such disputes over practically nothing. “
Some of Keillor’s best moments came when he offered quick tips and sage advice.
On a sense of appreciation: “Gratitude is the cure for this country … we’re short on it.”
On the subject of cheerfulness: “It’s a choice. You put it on in the morning, same as you choose what underwear you’re going to wear. You choose to be cheerful and to put yesterday behind you and not to walk around with a knapsack of rocks on your back.”
On getting old: Be good to your friends because there will come a time when you’re of no use to anyone and there’s no reason to like you other than out of long-standing habit … You think you can get by on charm now, but eventually, you’ll fall back on loyalty.”
On growing old together: “Give the other person plenty of room. No sudden moves. Keep all disastrous thoughts to yourself.”
Secret of a long career: Keep going, don’t fade and don’t think about your reputation for a minute. “It’s like becoming the tallest boy in the 6th grade. You stick around and you’re bound to win it.”
Aside from a lot of laughs, though, the evening’s highlights came with two musical moments.
Early in the show, Keillor told the audience that the beauty of radio, for himself, turned out to be joy of singing with people, thus hinting at a musical interlude.
“I heard there are Mennonites here,” Garrison said, drawing laughs. “There would be only one way to find out,” as he coaxed the crowd into a sing-along of “America the Beautiful.”
And like a trained choir, led with a gentle hand and voice, the crowd picked up the lyrics perfectly.
Keillor then led the audience through a medley of other musical slices of Americana, including “On the Banks of the Wabash” and “Shall We Gather at the River.”
Maybe it was the audience or Keillor’s vocal direction or the outstanding acoustics of Sauder Hall, but that medley was nothing short of heavenly.
“Well, you sing as well as you ever did,” He panned afterward.
Keillor closed the show by leading the crowd in a chorus of “Amazing Grace,” but not before telling the audience they were blessed by the opportunity to come together in a gorgeous town and have the chance to sing in beautiful four-part harmony.
The crowd picked up the cue like a trained choir.
And cheerfulness abounded throughout Sauder Hall.