Live Backstage Chat
October 9, 1999

HOST: Hi everybody. Welcome to A Prairie Home Companion's backstage chat. We're live backstage from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. Right now things are a bit chaotic, the cast and crew are rushing around as usual, making sure everything is ready to go for the show. There's always last-minute changes to the script, additions and refinements, but somehow everything always comes together. By the time 5 pm rolls around, things will be a lot more settled, and some of the Prairie Home Companion staff will be here to join us, maybe some show guests as well, and possibly even Garrison himself after the show.

HOST: The show is currently in warmup; the band is on the stage practicing and the show will start in a few minutes. The band just finished their signature tune, and Garrison just came on stage. He's singing the theme song now and doing his warmup monologue. Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Geoff Muldaur, and Dave van Ronk are the musical guests tonight, and of course, you'll hear all the news from Lake Wobegon.

HOST: Andrea Murray, the company manager, has just joined us.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Is PHC going "on the road" this year, or will shows only be from St. Paul and New York? I am near L.A.

ANDREA MURRAY, COMPANY MANAGER: We will be in Pasadena in May.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Does Garrison warm up the audience like this every week?

ANDREA: Yes, although we've changed the format of the warmup this season.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Why do you throw all the scripts down as you finish with them? This horrifies my mother.

ANDREA: It's his way. We don't argue with genius.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: When did the show first air?

ANDREA: July 6, 1974 at Macalester College.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Where should a witty, entertaining writer aspiring to write for PHC go to apply for a job?

ANDREA: You might try McDonald's. You can probably get free food.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Garrison, what are you doing New Year's Eve?

ANDREA: Garrison and the whole staff will be rehearsing for our New Year's Day show from St. Paul.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: What does a company manager do?

ANDREA: A lot of my job involves arranging travel and food for the staff and artists.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Have any of you been to Alabama?

ANDREA: The show has been to Alabama, but it was before my time with the show.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Silly question - are you really backstage??

ANDREA: Yes, we're downstairs, stage right.

HOST: Hidden away in the basement!

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Are you all like the Backstreet boys?

ANDREA: No, but our business manager is at their concert tonight.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Will Guy's All Star Shoe Band do another CD? I love "Shake It, Break It."

ANDREA: There are no plans for one atthis time, but it's always a possibility.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Will the show be traveling to Florida anytime soon?

ANDREA: We have no plans to this season, but I don't know about the future.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Is there a Web site for PHC with audio?

HOST: To listen live to PHC, go to

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Will Governor Jesse be on the show tonight?

ANDREA: One never knows when he'll show up, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear him.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Does the Shoe Band perform anywhere else?

ANDREA: Nope. They're exclusively ours.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Will the show come to Idaho again?

ANDREA: Not this year, but as I said, we don't know about the future. I'd expect so.

HOST: PHC's company manager has to leave, but will be back later. We're now joined by David, the show's Production assistant.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Where is Lake Wobegon?

DAVID O'NEILL, PRODUCTION ASSISTANT: Lake Wobegon is located in Mist County in Central MN.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Has Garrison ever been to upstate New York?

DAVID: He has, including Chautauqua.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Will Garrison be on to talk today?

DAVID: One never knows - he'll try to make it if he can.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Is Garrison as funny in person as he is on the show?

DAVID: Absolutely! We have a blast here.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Did Garrison create Prairie Home Companion, or did it exist in some form before him?

DAVID: Garrison created it; he was inspired by a performance at the Grand Ole Opry.

HOST: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings just walked by after finishing their set. Governor Jesse is onstage now.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Will you have any other guests today?

DAVID: Yes, coming up soon will be Dave Van Ronk and Geoffe Muldaur.

HOST: the Guv just finished, now Guy's All Star Show Band is playing a tune.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Who does the voice of Jesse?

HOST: Tim Russell, who just walked by after finishing his bit - let's see if we can grab him!

TIM RUSSELL: That would be me, Tim Russell.

HOST: If you've got a question for Tim, ask now!

AUDIENCE QUESTION: I just want to know how much of the show is improvised? :)

TIM RUSSELL: The scripts are basically done as written, but we have the liberty to make it flow as realistically as possible.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Tim, how much time did you spend working on your Ventura voice?

TIM RUSSELL: It's a part of my brain now, I can't get it out of my mind.

HOST: Tim just left us - he's due back onstage in a minute. We'll try to get him back on his next break, though.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Are the greetings Garrison reads submitted by the audience?

HOST: Yes, they are - a basket gets passed around and the audience puts in their greetings.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Why did the show leave the World Theater?

HOST: We didn't - the World Theater was renamed the Fitzgerald Theater, after F. Scott Fitzgerald.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Why compete with the show by doing this stuff at the same time?

HOST: We don't see it as competing, you can listen to the show online as you chat just go to for a live audio stream.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: When do you all plan to have the next joke episode?

HOST: The PHC Company Manager has rejoined us, and will be answering any questions.

ANDREA: The Joke Show will fall on April 1st this year and we'll be in New York.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How many people are there? Was the show sold out?

ANDREA: The show is sold out each week, but we do have rush tickets that go on sale so you can get in.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How early does the line for $10 same-day tickets start to form?

ANDREA: Today people were lining up at the box office at 10:30 am! The box office doesn't open until 4:00 pm!

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Who writes the "Ketchup Council" skits?

ANDREA: Garrison writes the ketchup skits.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How much do you rehearse during the week to prepare for a show?

ANDREA: We rehearse the band on Friday, but most of the guests rehearse on Saturday before the show.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Will Garrison be doing Guy Noir tonight?

ANDREA: I am sorry to report that Guy will not be heard tonight. He is on a case somewhere far away.

HOST: We are now joined by PHC soundman Tom Keith. If you've got questions for Tom, send them in now - he's only got a few minutes.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Who is actually answering the questions?

TOM KEITH: I am, Tom Keith - who else would?

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How long have you been doing this show?

TOM KEITH: I have been doing the show for longer than I can remember, but then I can't remember what I did last week. I have been doing the show for about 23 years.

HOST: Sue Scott is now here - if you've got any questions for her, ask now!

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Has Sue Scott ever performed for TV?

SUE SCOTT: Yes, I did an NBC movie of the week a few years ago. I played Connie Selleca's lawyer. I also do TV commercials.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Sue, are you from Minnesota?

SUE SCOTT: No. I am from Tucson, Arizona. I've been in Minnesota since 1982.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Do you guys ever crack up laughing when you shouldn't?

SUE SCOTT: Do we crack up? You betcha, all the time! However, hopefully you don't hear us on the air. We try to pull ourselves off mic when that happens.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Who does the sound effects?

TOM KEITH: This is Tom Keith, hoping to answer the question who does the sound effects. I DO! Actually it is all on tape and I just mouth it.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Do you find this show a breakthrough for your career?

TOM KEITH: This show has done nothing for my career. I wanted to be a carpenter.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How long has this been aired?

TOM KEITH: The show has been broadcast since 1974. It didn't go national until about 1980.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Tom, do you use any special kind of Styrofoam cup for the echo sound effect?

TOM KEITH: I have been doing the echo effect vocal after and accident with an artichoke heart.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Tom, can you say something funny?

TOM KEITH: Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha - how's that?

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Tom, do you do the "guest" voices as well?

TOM KEITH: No I leave that up to the professionals like Tim Russell.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Who do you make the sound effects for?

TOM KEITH: I make the sound effects for the Prairie Home Companion Show sketches.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Tom, are you the Sound Engineer, or the Sound Effects man, or both?

TOM KEITH: Actually, I started out as the house sound engineer but when the show expanded to more than 8 microphones I had to get out of the business and the stage stuff because it's a lot easier. Now I can complain about the sound mix.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: What are some of your favorite sound effects that you came up with?

TOM KEITH: I think the sound of an automobile tire spinning in the snow; seagulls, but as I get older it becomes harder to do those higher notes; and helicopter is fun.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How does one acquire tickets for a performance?

HOST: Ticket info is on the PHC Web site,

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Is Rich Dworsky playing tonight?

TOM KEITH: Yes, he's always with us.

HOST: Tom Keith has to go back onstage now, but the PHC Company Manager is back to answer all your questions.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Is Butch Thompson the one on the piano?

ANDREA: Not this week. But he'll be here next week.

HOST: Andy Stein just walked by - he's the violinist, saxophonist, and arranger for Guy's All Star Shoe Band. If you've got any questions, ask him now.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Do you use an orchestra as well as the band?

ANDY STEIN: Sometimes we use a larger group or expand the GAS Band by a few people. But usually we just use the 5 of us. We have had members of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra or Members of the Chautauqua Symphony when we were there.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Mr. Stein, who was the most challenging artist to work with?


AUDIENCE QUESTION: Andy, I love the band. Will you make another CD together?

ANDY STEIN: At this time there is no plan for another CD. The distribution on the last was pathetic, complete with a warning NOT to play the CD on the radio - oops! Well try to get the business side more together next time.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How long has the Shoe Band been a part of PHC?

ANDY STEIN: We have been on the show since fall of 1992.

HOST: Andy's off to play another song - here's a member of the crew for a different perspective.

CHICO: Hi, this is Chico the Stagehand, anyone out there interested in behind the scene gossip?

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How many microphones are there? How many does Garrsion have?

CHICO: Anywhere between 24 and 40; Garrison has only one, but it's a real big one.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: What ever happened to the 'Powdermilk Biscuit Band'?

CHICO: They got stale.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Are you required to be Lutheran?

CHICO: No, I'm a Jewish kid from Brooklyn and blend in real nicely.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: What does a stagehand do? There can't be too many sets to move around.

CHICO: We have to set up the microphones for the various bands and we do have a stage that requires scenery and lighting for the in-house audience.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Chico, are there any practical jokes played on the staff?

CHICO: Only when we get our paychecks.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: What is your favorite episode?

CHICO: My favorite episode is when Mary and the newsroom were huddled around each other singing It's a Long Way to Tippararee.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Will this chat be available on upcoming shows?

HOST: Yes, we'll be doing it every week during the fall season, while the show is at the Fitzgerald.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Does this mean the show isn't traveling this fall?

HOST: It's traveling - to New York and the Midwest - I just meant the chats will be happening every week that the show is at the Fitzgerald.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Have you ever had a guest host because Garrison was unavailable?

CHICO: Garrison has never missed a national broadcast.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Is there a cast party after every show?

CHICO: No, but we are available for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.

HOST: Tom Keith is back with us now.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How did you make those sound effects? It seems pretty tricky.

TOM KEITH: Yes, absolutely it is very very very tricky. Only I can do it. Nobody else. Just me.

HOST: Tell us about some of the methods for generating those noises - what kinds of props do you use?

TOM KEITH: A good pair of shoes with hard heels is always a must. I use a box of corn starch for the sound of walking through snow by squeezing it in a walking cadence. A rusty hinge is needed for that rusty door. Styrofoam picnic plates are used for the sound of breaking wood. I can't tell you how I did the sound of dog doo-doo dropping on the table.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Where did you study sound effects?

TOM KEITH: In the assistant principal's office.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: What did you use for the lawn sprinkler sound?.

TOM KEITH: When I was staying a friend's place in Hawaii his automatic sprinkling system came on about three in the morning, and I just killed some time trying to reproduce it vocally.

HOST: Tom about to be on again; the show's company manager is back with us now.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How much of the monologue is prewritten?

ANDREA: Garrison writes the whole thing, but he usually kind of wings it from memory during the show.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Are open auditions held for musical guests?

ANDREA: No, although we receive a lot of audition tapes and CDs from artists who want to be on the show. We also get a lot of submissions for the Talent from Towns Under 2000 contest.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How many times has Geoff Muldaur been on the show (and whatever the answer is, it's not enough!)

ANDREA: This is Geoff's third time with us this year, but the first time this season.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How many staff people work on the show?

ANDREA: There are about 20 people involved in producing the show each week.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Do you arrange and pay for travel for contestants?

ANDREA: If you mean for Talent from Towns Under Two Thousand, we pay travel expenses only for the finalists who are on the show.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Where in the Midwest will the show be this season?

ANDREA: We're here in St. Paul, of course, and also in Rapid City, SD on November 20.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: How long will the show go on for?

ANDREA: We foresee the show ending when Garrison decides to stop doing it. We don't anticipate that coming soon.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Who does the female voices?

ANDREA: Sue Scott does most of the women's voices, although Garrison sometimes writes parts for guests like Sarah Jessica Parker. Tim Russell has also been known to play a female role.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: What are some of the more "memorable" travel experiences you and the crew have had?

ANDREA: I wasn't involved, but last summer Tim, Sue, and Tom got stuck in the Memphis airport due to a flight delay, so they rented a car and drove to Graceland. They got back to the airport in time to make the later flight to Knoxville.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Are videos of the show ever available?

ANDREA: There are no recent videos, but there are some available on

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Thanks guys, this has been a real hoot!

HOST: Things are winding down here at PHC. Thanks to everyone online! We'll be back next week, both here chatting and at, where you can get live real audio, as well as four webcams for shots from the show. So long!


Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

Available now»

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