Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Prairie Home Sweet Home

Live on APHC

Thanks so much to everyone who tuned in to hear us on A Prairie Home Companion last Saturday. We loved every minute of our weekend in St.Paul, especially the minutes that involved soaking in the elegance of the St. Paul Hotel and singing in the Fitzgerald Theater!

Never has our band been as well taken care of as we were this weekend. We flew in from our separate corners of the world on Friday morning and were whisked from the airport to the hotel in vans with squishy seats and pleasant drivers. Then we had a couple of hours to bounce on the comfy king-sized beds, try out the bath products and take an afternoon constitutional around the neighborhood before we were whisked away in another set of squishy vans to the Fitzgerald.

The Fitz

I've been listening to the show since I was a child (I grew up thinking that Powdermilk Biscuits really did come in a big, blue box), and I don't think I ever quite realized the magnitude of it. We learned that day that APHC has a listenership (is that a word?) of 4.5 million. Whoa! Not exactly an intimate, from-my-living-room- to-yours kind of deal. And beyond that, the Fitzgerald is an imposing, 1100-seat auditorium with plush red seats and dressing rooms and a box office. You can buy tickets on TicketMaster-- doesn't that spell big time?

So we showed up at this, the biggest venue we'd ever been allowed into, and were immediately welcomed by members of APHC's exceedingly friendly and helpful staff. Sam Hudson, the sound wizard, came out from behind his soundboard (bigger than many kitchens in Manhattan) and made it clear that he could and would make us sound good so long as we showed up at our soundcheck and didn't insult the Minnesota Gophers. Thanks, Sam!

Pretty soon Garrison arrived (that's Garrion Keillor, everybody!) and collected us all in the front few rows of auditorium seats to give us the showdown lowdown. We were each going to get 7 minutes to show the audience how wonderful we were, through our witty repartee with him, GK, as well as our music. Plus, he revealed that he had written a Guy Noir script the night before that featured all six bands acting and singing a yet-to-be-learned theme song in our own distinctive styles. He finished by explaining that he wanted us all to compete. This was not a collaboration, it was a competition! So we all put on our best snarls and ran off to get ready for soundcheck.

The remaining 5 hours before the Friday night, non-broadcast show were sort of a blur: last minute rehearsing in the dressing rooms; making crucial costume decisions; gorging on gourmet catered food; muttering Piscacadawadaquoddymoggin over and over again. Zara, Amanda, Daisy May and I were the only girls in the show, so we got to spend a fair amount of time bonding in the ladies' dressing room. May was just as sweet, talented and adorable as we had deduced from our pre-show reconnaissance (you know, MySpace searching). It proved impossible to keep up our competitive snarls around each other and we slipped into scheming about how fun it would be to tour together. Sorry, Garrison...

Honestly, the show itself was a blur, too. It was a thrill to sit backstage, listen to all the other acts play and watch the APHC cogs turn perfectly in synch. Then, somehow, we were onstage, chatting with Garrison and singing for a sold-out crowd who clapped with abandon and kindly laughed at our not-quite-funny jokes. By the end of the night, I think all the acts were feeling a bit better about the big show the next day...

We started Saturday off right with breakfast at Mickey's Dining Car. You may remember it from such movies as The Mighty Ducks (I, II & II) and Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion. As we were waiting at the counter for our orders we saw the fry cook making omelettes. I swear he put two entire sticks of butter in the pan before those eggs went in. Nobody likes a dry omelette, right? I recommend their homemade baked beans.


When we got to the theater, we all got to soundcheck again. They timed all of our appearances down to the last "Thank you very much" so they could make sure everything would fit in the 1 hour, 59 minute on-air time slot that evening. GK gave us yet another rewrite of the Guy Noir script (with more mentions of Piscacadawada- quoddymoggin Parkway, to be sure). Zara, Daisy May and I played with curling irons and hairspray and fussed over what outfits to wear.

Then the time came, as it always does, to put that last bobby pin in good and snug and get up to the stage. You can hear everything that happened onstage between 5pm and 6:59 here. You can be sure that there was a lot of hooting, hollering and hand-wringing going on backstage. If you listen to the archived show you'll hear that The Powder Kegs from Burlington, Vermont won first place. Congratulations, boys! (Even if you did only beat us by the skin of your teeth...0.1% of the vote!) We were second and our new friends Daisy May Erlewine and Seth Bernard took third.

Sweeeeet Smiles of Victory
With the stress and drama of cutthroat competition behind us, we all retired to the St.Paul hotel for a reception replete with decadent desserts, chilled wine and photo opportunities. Just about everyone from the Prairie Home staff made it over. We got Zara to do her crying baby impression for Tom Keith (the sound effects guy). He seemed pretty impressed but added, "I don't do babies or belches." Garrison convinced Zara and I to sing "The Sweetest Gift a Mother's Smile" with him as a trio. Then he and Zara rocked out on "Kansas City Star" (my fiddle solo on the latter shall be stricken from the record-- I already had two glasses of wine in me). Here's Zara & Garrison whooping it up on youtube.

Emily & Jesse fiddlin' down with The Powderkegs:

And just like that, the whirlwind weekend came to an end. We are honored to have had the chance to play on the show and thrilled to have worked with such top-notch performers and staff. Thanks again to everyone who listened in! Let's do it again sometime...

Keep on honky-tonkin!

Emily (and the rest of the Sweetback Sisters)


val mindel said...

Great to read about your adventures! An excellent dessert to the mighty meal of the radio show. Clearly what you all need is another tour, and soonish. I'll be there to hear you in June, anyway. Congratulations all around! love, val (mom)

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