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Garrison, Long time listener, first

May 15, 2006 |

Garrison,
Long time listener, first time writer. I have read that the seeds for "A Prairie Home Companion" were planted in Nashville when you worked on an assignment here about the Opry. Any truth to that rumor? When will you be coming back to the Ryman, the home of country music?

Ken M.
Madison, TN

In the spring of 1974, Ken, I proposed an article to William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker, about the Grand Ole Opry leaving its old home in the Ryman Auditorium and moving to the suburbs, and he agreed to it, thanks to the intervention of an editor named Bill Whitworth, who had written an amazing Profile of Roger Miller in the magazine and other stuff. So I went to Nashville for a week, stayed at a cheap hotel, picked up little bits of color tried to see Chet Atkins but he was busy and didn't know who I was, ran into Roy Acuff in an instrument shop and he was good and crusty, I found an impoverished songwriter who'd written a song called "Goodbye, Dear Old Ryman" and was hoping to have a hit with it and I met an old fiddler named Sid Harkreader who knew some of the original Opry musicians from 1925 I gathered up some threads of a story, wrote it, and it was published in the magazine in May of that year, I believe. But meanwhile I'd gotten the notion to go back to Minnesota and start up a similar show. I had done a morning show on radio for a few years, 6 to 9 a.m., and was tired of mornings and looking for something new, so that was it. I took the name from the Prairie Home cemetery in Moorhead you go for those macabre touches when you're young and did a few test runs at the Walker Art Center in April and then started the weekly show in July.

I remember how down-at-the-heels that lower Broadway section of Nashville was in 1974, the old warehouse district and especially the blocks around the Ryman, and now of course it's come back beautifully, and so has the Opry, which has had a bumpy time in the suburbs and now does about half its shows in the Ryman. Tradition! A beautiful thing. I also remember how surprised some Nashvilleans were that The New Yorker magazine was interested in the Opry. To them, it was something of an embarrassment. As a result of starting the radio show, I got to be friends with Chet Atkins and now when I go to Nashville I can see that terrific statue of Chet sitting and picking guitar. It's down near the Performing Arts Center.

I don't know when we go back to Nashville. Next season, I hope.

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