Friday, Part One.
Our van arrived at the hotel at 2:30 pm. We are staying about a half hour's drive from NJPAC and it's a nice drive through what was described by Bumblin' and Stumblin' guys as "where they dump the bodies." Beautiful place. Friday was our first rehearsal at the hall. When we walked in through the backstage entrance everything was great, and then we walked out onto the stage and saw just how enormous the auditorium was and we all started shaking. Things got real pretty fast as they sort of gave us an overview of how the show worked, which was basically, "It's live and Garrison WILL change things as they happen, no one knows what he will do, ever, but you will know exactly what he's doing as it's happening." They spoke about him with a reverence, you can tell these people are in love with this man and that they clearly love working on his show.
After our overview, we met Nic, she's a research assistant on the show and gets direct assignments from the big man himself. She corralled us into catering where she interviewed us so "Garrison can get to know you guys more personally." Nic was one of our favorites on the show and she has an awesome tatoo from Godard's Breathless
. So we sat around, tried to explain to her our weirdo dialect of speaking to each other by only saying things like "who wants it, who loves it" to each other (it's cat talk).
Sound check. We were the first band to do a soundcheck and it went badly. Nerves got us a little bit, and it was rough. Later we sat in our dressing room and practiced. Confidence was boosted considerably.
Later I'm sitting in the auditorium sort of freaked out about how crazy all this seems and then Garrison Keillor walks in. He's wearing stone washed loose jeans and bright red Saucony's. He walks across the stage—suitcase in hand slides it across the stage slowly sauntering behind it with a mean scowl on his face. He disappears behind a laptop for quite a while and then we get instructed through the house loudspeaker system that we have a meeting on stage in 5 pm.
Mr. Keillor talks us through his ideas about the show. He wants to do a "round robin" where we sing a medley, or do a "carousel" where we all take turns playing. He sings several times throughout this to explain his concepts—these precise "la dee das" while snapping. He has perfect timing. I start to see why they spoke the way they did about him. We're dismissed and they get on with finishing writing the show. They don't finish the show until the day of. The actors, Tim, Sue and Fred show up on Saturday, get the scripts and go over the material for that nights show. Amazing.
Friday, Part Two.
Rehearsal is over and it's time to take our "Motorcoach Tour" of Manhattan. Garrison is our tour guide as we make stops in Bryant Park, Tavern on the Green in Central Park, Grand Central Station, Wall Street and then off to Brooklyn to Marco Polo's Ristaurante for dinner, or "supper" as they called it.
Wine in on the table, along with bread and butter. We grab a table and start drinking, meanwhile the actors from the show ask if there's any room at our table and yes there was plenty. Fred, Sue and Tim are the three other actors who do all the skits with Garrison Keillor on the show. Fred does all the noises on the show, honks, whistles, footsteps, car crashes, millions of tons of ash spewing etc. He's the first one to strike up the conversation and he's pretty hilarious and very animated. Tim is quiet, but he jumps in when he can get a word in edgwise on Fred with some impersonations. He does most of the male roles not employed by Mr. Keillor on the show.
Sue is great, she's sitting next to Rich and she is funny and full of questions for the band. Fred kept the wine in heavy rotation among the table and I credit this partially to our determination that he was our favorite. The real reason though is that he is sort our hero. He wrote all the music to the Nickelodeon TV show Doug
, he was the voice of Skeeter, Mr. Dink and Porkchop plus he wrote "Killer Tofu"! If that's not enough, he was also Harry in Harry and the Hendersons
. He offered to do a stage interpretation on a butterfly coming out of a cocoon using Vaseline and toilet paper to construct the cocoon around his body (actually i think this was our idea, but he was into it). Dinner was fantastic, they made all kinds of vegetarian stuff for us and we drank a considerable amount of wine!
Day two is over, tommorrow is show time.