Monday, January 01, 2007

Hello ought-seven, from Music City

I enjoyed "Garrison Keillor's New Year's Eve Special," which aired live last night on PBS. The avuncular Minnesota raconteur helmed the broadcast from the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, the lovely old "Grand Ole Opry" theater in downtown Nashville, and the roster of guest artists drew from Music City's deep talent pool: Emmylou Harris, Old Crow Medicine Show, dobroist Jerry Douglas. As on his radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," Keillor punctuated the music with wry anecdotes and gag advertisements.

More, even, than the Ryman show itself, I liked a preliminary segment that saw Keillor ambling relaxedly on the streets of downtown, joined by the country star Vince Gill. The two swapped stories about the "Opry" -- it was the inspiration for "A Prairie Home Companion" -- as they checked out six-strings at Gruhn Guitars and shopped for peanut butter at a grocery store. Gill even did a bit of harmonizing at the Lower Broad honkytonk Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, where he joined BR549's Chuck Mead for an apparently impromptu duet of Buck Owens' "Crying Time."

Another fine moment came at midnight, Nashville time (and Madison time), when the Ryman audience rose and joined Emmylou and the rest in singing "Auld Lang Syne." They read lyrics from sheets printed, if I'm not mistaken, at nearby Hatch Show Print. It's such a lovely and sad old song, and it's well suited to Keillor's patented wistfulness.

Nashville is my hometown, and I can testify that the segment with Gill, especially, captured the city's blend of schmaltz and soulfulness as well as anything you'd see. Back when I was a kid, and still a full-time Nashvillian, Keillor inscribed a book for me with a Nashville greeting. I believe he loves the place. So do I.

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