When Garrison Keillor thinks about Cleveland, one of the first things that come to his mind is a 1961 visit the Cleveland Orchestra made to Minneapolis. He went to that show, and it was the first time he had ever seen a full orchestra. "I was awestruck," he says. "It was a huge auditorium, packed with people, and I just sat there taking it all in." Keillor, the author of dozens of best-sellers and host of American Public Radio's popular A Prairie Home Companion, will return the favor when he performs his one-man show Oct. 27 in the Cleveland Orchestra's home, Severance Hall.
Q. What can people expect in your one-man show?
A. It's just me, just a stage and a microphone. It's all about Lake Wobegon [the fictional town based on his own hometown of Anoka, Minn.], but also a little autobiography and little bit of philosophy, small-town philosophy. Sometimes if the audience seems in the mood, I'll have them stand and sing a few songs together a cappella, which is a really lovely thing. People are astonished to hear how well they sing together.
Q. You usually play large cities, but you talk about small-town life. How does that go over?
A. When a person talks about small-town life, they're just talking about people. They're talking about people and their children and their relatives. That is what small-town life is about. The logistics of life are for the most part easier.
Q. Do you find that your big-city audiences connect with the small-town vibe?
A. They seem to, but you don't need to have lived in a small town to enjoy stories about a small town. You wouldn't need to be from the South to read William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor. It travels well beyond the region.
Q. When you started A Prairie Home Companion, did you think it would become as popular as it has?
A. No. There was no planning. It was very short on organization. I would call people up on Friday and ask if they could come over and be on the show. It was just very easygoing, and we just gradually found our way. I don't think you could start a show like that today. Public radio is much more organized than it used to be and much less tolerant of amateurism.
Q. Do you think it's a good or bad thing?
A. I think that people are less tolerant of fumbling amateurism than they used to be. I think people's ears have changed over the years, and so people are expecting something quite different from what we were doing back in 1974. It was very homespun and very rough.