Three years ago, Garrison Keillor gave his last live performance of a Prairie Home Companion – the folksy Midwest variety show heard on public radio stations nationwide. One year later the distributor -- Minnesota Public Radio -- cut ties with Keillor over allegations of inappropriate behavior with a woman on his staff. Fans have heard little from him since then, but Keillor is making a bit of a comeback with shows here in Virginia on September 19th and 20th.
Garrison Keillor said he was bewildered when Minnesota Public Radio fired him. He admitted to touching a staffer’s bare back, and – when she recoiled – apologizing. He claimed more than a hundred women had put an arm around him while posing for pictures – then let that arm drift down below his belt, and he suggested this country was in the grip of a mania. Earlier, he defended Minnesota Senator Al Franken against charges of sexual harassment and continues to do so.
“Al should not have resigned," he proclaims. "The article by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker cleared Al of the most prominent charge against him.”
So what about his own brush with the #MeToo movement?
“I’ll talk about anything you want to know about other than algebra or World War I,” Keillor said, so I asked him if he had been unfairly treated by Minnesota Public Radio after a member of his staff alleged dozens of “requests for sexual contact.” He said he would address that question in a memoir he’s writing but added that friends and acquaintances aren’t concerned.
“I grew up in Minnesota. People here know me, and nobody has walked up and said, ‘Tell us what happened. What went on?' This tells me that people have let it drift by. It just may not be that interesting.”
When his colleague first came forward with claims, Keillor sounded bitter as he complained that he’d spent 50 years working hard, only to find his career trashed by an accusation. “I think I have to leave the country in order to walk around in public and not feel accusing glances,” he wrote on Facebook.
Now, however, he seems comfortable with a new role – writing personal essays, a book of limericks and soon a screenplay. He looks forward to a couple of shows in Waynesboro on September 19th and 20th and was happy when the first sold out.
“If you play theaters that are small enough you will sell out on a regular basis,” he jokes.
He likes the intimacy of small spaces like the Wayne Theater with 385 seats. He can see women in the crowd who cajoled their husbands or boyfriends into coming to the show.
“I can see when the man looks at his watch, and I can the jingle of car keys. People’s attention span is much more fragile, and the idea of going and watching a 77-year-old man on stage talk and sing in his ruined baritone voice is much less than maybe it was at one time.”
Outspoken after the election of Donald Trump, Keillor is no longer commenting on politics.
“I mean the country is divided, but the country’s been divided before. There was a time when the state of Virginia and the state of Minnesota were very much on different sides, and I don’t think we will get back to that point.”
And, he says, it’s going to be a long year before the next presidential election.
“Meanwhile, we’ll watch the House of Commons debate Brexit, which is much more fun.”
He will be joined on stage by musician Rick Dworsky and hopes to reconnect with frequent guests on a Prairie Home Companion – Robin and Linda Williams, who live in the Shenandoah Valley.