Garrison Keillor made his Minnesota Public Radio debut on a program named after a graveyard, the Prairie Home Cemetery in Moorhead, Minn. All these years later, that hallowed place welcomes a weekly gathering of fans worldwide eager to become privy to the latest "News from Lake Wobegon," Keillor's monologue about fictitious residents of the whimsical community. This week, the radio show is broadcast from Wolf Trap with a cast of his hand-picked guests to fill the woods with music, comedy and nostalgia.
Two of Keillor's favorite musicians on hand are vocalist Heather Masse from the folk group the Wailin' Jennys and fiddler Sara Watkins, from the acoustic bluegrass trio, Nickel Creek. Watkins follows her self-named first solo album with "Sun Midnight Sun" featuring guest performances by brother Sean, Jackson Browne, Taylor Goldsmith of the band Dawes and other colleagues.
"I composed the music in the album to cover a few bases and explore new territory," Watkins said. "I wanted to build songs from Sean's guitar playing, so we started without a foundation, worked it up as we went and mapped it out so it would be different from the first record, but with connections. I'll perform a few of the songs at Wolf Trap and will have some of the guys in the band sing along. That will work well for the audience.
|A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor|
|Where: Wolf Trap Filene Center|
|When: 8 p.m. Friday, 5:45 p.m. Saturday|
|Info: $25 to $55; 877-965-3872; wolftrap.org|
"I love seeing this show live from the wings. The live drama is scripted, but it's fun to see how Garrison designs the rest of the show and creates something new every week. I doubt that the two Wolf Trap shows will be the same because he gets bored repeating."
Watkins fell in love with the fiddle and bluegrass visiting pizza parlors in her native San Diego. This is not surprising, she pointed out, because there are pockets of bluegrass all over the country, not just in Appalachia. After absorbing the sound listening to live bands every weekend, she and Sean founded Nickel Creek with mandolinist Chris Thile.
Watkins composes as the spirit moves her, playing each new song for Sean because "songs don't feel new until they're played for somebody." Depending upon his reaction, she may put a song away for several months; other times it goes through a slow growth process, developing line by line, often ending up in an unexpected place.
For the past nine years, she and Sean have enjoyed a residency known as the Watkins Family Hour at the Los Angeles club Largo. Podcasts are available of their performances with guests like Dawes and Browne, whose touring shows she will open across the country throughout the summer. Wolf Trap audiences will next hear her opening for Browne on July 23 when he is the featured Filene Center artist.
"I plan to perform 'You and Me' on both the broadcast and Jackson Browne's show," she said. "It's one of the songs in my album that I started to write on my first Summer Love tour with 'A Prairie Home Companion.' Playing it brings back those happy memories every time."