Garrison Keillor, Crybaby

Very few articles in the local rag have given me as much sincere happiness as this one. It’s an account of a spate of whining from NPR blowhard Garrison Keillor, who put on a “Prarie Home Companion” performance at Atlanta’s Chastain Park Amitheatre last week:

When Neil Young and Michael Stipe openly chastised noisy Chastain Park Amphitheatre audiences from the stage several years ago, the chardonnay-sipping conversationalists flicked away the criticism like a fly circling too close to the potato salad.

After all, Young has a well-honed reputation for crotchetiness and Stipe is a bit eccentric.

But when you receive a public spanking from “A Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor, a guy many suspect has green tea pumping through his veins — that’s something to talk about.

So when the coolers and candelabras are hauled into the venue Saturday for the India Arie concert, music fans can expect that talking will be a topic of conversation.

Chatty Chastain-goers are nothing new — the venue’s long-standing notoriety for noise has frustrated patrons and performers alike for years. For many, the quirky 7,500-seat, 61-year-old amphitheater can be either one of country’s most enjoyable — or confounding — places for a concert.

The issue came roaring to the forefront after Keillor posted critical remarks about the audience following the public radio host’s June 24 performance.

“The show was troubled by a large number of loud drunks sitting in the expensive corporate seats down close to the stage,” Keillor said on the show’s Web site. Calling the Classic Chastain performance “a joyless affair,” he added: “If Chastain Park were par for the course, I would’ve quit years ago.”

I laughed on and off for a good half-hour after reading that.

Chastain is one of the best things about living in Atlanta. The result of a 1930’s make-work project, it’s an outdoor venue that’s as unique in its own way as Colorado’s Red Rocks or Seattle’s old Pier 62/63 (which is now apparently and unfortunately closed to music events). Chastain is nearly unique in my experience, a concert site where patrons are (usually) allowed and even encouraged to bring in their own food and drink. The floor and several rows of the ampitheatre are filled with six-seat tables, and over the years people have gotten more and more elaborate with their concert spreads, bringing in tablecloths and candelabras and all manner of consumables to go with them. You have to see it yourself to really appreciate the charm and laid-back joy of the place.

As the article notes, Keillor is hardly the first performer to be taken aback by a Chastain audience. Most first-time players at Chastain are visible taken aback at not being the center of attention, and more than a few of them make nasty wisecracks about interrupting dinner with a concert–but those who can get over themselves and soak up the atmosphere of the place keep coming back, year after year.

Harry Connick, Jr. was completely stunned the first time he played Chastain, and griped about people chatting during his ballads, but since then he’s become as comfortable with the “Chastain scene” as any Atlantan, and he never plays fewer than two dates there on summer tours. We’ve got tickets to see Lyle Lovett at Chastain in a couple of weeks, and Lovett always makes a point to talk about how much fun he has playing a genuinely different venue after endless weeks of bland civic centers and generic outdoor sheds.

Now, I can already hear the complaining out there–“the audience should show respect to the performers.” Balderdash. The audience is playing the performer’s grocery bills, and the payees ought to appreciate that first, last and always. And at any rate, respect-to-the-performer would be a legitimate point if we were talking about Itzhak Perlman, or even Lovett and Connick–legitimate, accomplished artists. Garrison Keillor is a glorified novelty act by comparison.

Given Keillor’s reputation for being, well, a jerk, I’m not at all surprised that he couldn’t handle an audience that wasn’t composed entirely of fawning “public” radio fans. I particularly got a kick out of his whining about “expensive corporate seats” (ah, Garrison, they’re the same price as anybody else’s tickets in the forward section–and you’re the one who set those prices in the first place). I guaran-damn-tee you he didn’t make any connection to the taxpayer funding for NPR and CPB that came, in part, courtesy of the people who also paid for those tickets, whether they liked it or not.

Ah, what fun. Every year, some pompous performer gets his knickers in a knot because a Chastain audience won’t pay complete attention to him. How much more delightful, then, when this year’s Chastain laughingstock is a pure-blue jackass offstage as well.

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38 Responses to “Garrison Keillor, Crybaby”

  1. Lou Minatti Says:

    Poor Garrison. Well, if things don’t work out on the road he can always get us dumb taxpayers to foot the bill for him, like we’ve done the past few decades.

    Why do people like him again?

  2. Greg Says:

    Who is Garrison Keilor? I’m kidding, I’m kidding! I used to be in the book business, working in a major chain bookstore, and I remember when the word came down throught the ranks that Mr Keilor was accusing us (the company) of deliberately sabatoging his book sales. We all just laughed, especially since working in Texas, you could tell the companiy’s political slant in what they chose to display where, and Keilor’s book was given a very, very prominent placement. The problem was, at least in Texas, that nobody wanted to buy the damn thing…I wonder why? Not.

  3. Michael J. Totten Says:

    I hate it when people talk loudly during concerts because it distracts me from the performance I paid good money to see. The performer isn’t the only one who thinks it’s rude.

  4. sven10077 Says:

    Keilor’s show is like a bad acid trip PSA by libs crossed with a sleeping pill…..

    and the concert hall’s atmosphere IS that, if you don’t like it book one of the convention centers.

  5. Michael Tinkler Says:

    Chastain is dinner theater, not a chamber concert — that’s just what the venue is. I remember the first time I saw anything there (it was a double billing of Ricky Lee Jones and Lyle Lovett) and I was amazed. I kept going back, though, and came to love it.

  6. Matthew Says:

    I saw James Taylor at Chastain Park with my now-wife around 1987 and loved it. I always think of Chastain when I hear “That’s Why I’m Here”:

    Got your baby, got your blanket, got your bucket of beer…
    I break into a grin from ear to ear, ’cause suddenly it’s perfectly clear

  7. Michael Farris Says:

    Sounds to me like performers who are used to inattentive audiences can get into it. Perform seriously at those dates where the audience seems to care, then coast into Atlanta, sleepwalk thru a date or two and on to the next serious gig.
    I assume for most of the audience the chance to see and be seen trumps mere musical concerns.

  8. Rick Lockridge Says:

    As Michael points out above, it’s not about whether Keillor is offended–it’s about whether the jerks up front are making enough noise to distract me, a paying audience member, to the point where I can no longer enjoy the show. I’m surprised you’d defend the indefensible behavior so often seen (and especially heard!) at Chastain (a venue I used to really enjoy). It’s implicit in the social contract among all members of an audience: shut the hell up and don’t ruin the experience for the other folks. If you were next to me at Chastain and were talking while the performer was performing, I’d point that out to you in much more pointed language.

  9. geezer Says:

    Does ANYBODY know where I can get a copy of Ken Burns’ “Civil War” without the sage of Minnesota’s voiceovers? Argh. I mean, I got over having Martin Sheen playing Bobby Lee in “Gettysburg” (the bugger actually does a good job,) but Keillor really is a putz.

    On to something more important.

  10. Hucbald Says:

    Too funny. I make my living as a classical guitarist and I play several restaurant gigs every week. Garrison ought to perform for some of MY audiences sometime. Sheesh.

  11. Bill Chadwick Says:

    No doubt about it, Keillor is an egomaniac and a jackass. I used to like his radio show, despite his political bias, until he pretty much converted it into a weekly anti-Republican bash-fest. As it became more politicized, the show also became increasingly less funny, too. That said, I think he may have a point here. I live in Atlana, and have never gone to Chastain; but all of my friends have, and now refuse to go to any shows there because of the high percentage of noisy jerks in the audience. I think this may reflect what I call “the Atlanta Solipsist Syndrome.” There just seems to be a significantly higher percentage of rude jerks here whose operating philosophy seems to be: “I exist; my friends seem to exist; but no one else does.” I’m sure after the concerts at Chastain the noisemakers get into their SUVs and power-cars and then drive like maniacs, cutting people off while they talk on their cell phones.

  12. Paul Says:

    Lileks beautifully backhands Keillor today: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/05/0705/071805.html

  13. NessMonster Says:

    I’m with Rick, above. I don’t much care what the performer thinks about audience behavior (although it could be argued that a skilled performer should be good enough to hold the audience’s attention just by the sheer force of the performance). But I paid my money to hear the performer, not to hear somebody else’s conversation.

    I’ve never been to Chastain, but we used to have the same problem at the Hollywood Bowl when I lived in L.A. In fact, I wrote a piece for the L.A. Times about this very problem. There’s plenty of time to eat, chat, and socialize before the concert. No need to treat the performance as background music to your conversation. Forget the performers – have some damn consideration for your fellow concert-goers. If you were that interesting, we’d pay money to come hear you talk.

  14. Good Ole Charlie Says:

    As far as my own experiences…

    Been to concerts on the lawn (Tanglewood, MA), concerts in a shell (Mann Center in Philly[and going there again tomorrow night]), and concerts in a shell(Wolf Trap).

    Generally speaking, they’re not the most favorable spots to listen seriously. It’s more the experience of live music under which ever stars break trough the smog and haze. You go there for fun…

    That being said, I’m torn about GKellor. I happen to think – and have always thought – the man’s a perfect ten-point asshole. I don’t do folksy and I don’t like preaching.

    But, he’s entitled to be heard. Why he just didn’t crank up the volume, I don’t know. After a while it becomes a war, but that would be fun too. And you might just boo him off the stage…that happens too.

    Reason he doesn’t play large arenas? Might only half fill the joint. And loose money in the process.

  15. Rob Says:

    Chastain is a great place to see a show. The no-smoking policy is annoying, but it’s very intimate and cozy. It’s strange to me to hear about performers being distracted by the audience, though, since the shows I attended there were Quite Loud Indeed.

  16. Will Collier Says:

    I’m not unsympathetic to those who’re noting that the rest of the audience doesn’t want to hear the conversation at the next table. Believe me, I’ve had my own Chastain moments of wishing those guys over there would shut the hell up so I can hear better.

    But.

    That’s the nature of this particular beast. If you’ve been there even once, you know what you’re getting into when you buy the tickets. The first time, I can completely understand getting upset. After that, hey, what did you expect?

    Fortunately, every concert I’ve been to there, the conversation level drops as the performance goes on, to the point where everybody is more-or-less into the show by the second half (which also indicates to me that Keillor didn’t win anybody over last week).

  17. Cold Fury Says:

    Entertainment in Atlanta

    Will gives precious (and somnolent) NPR jerkweed Garrison Keillor a fine dressing-down for his patented pompous-assery here. Read of it, for it is funny as hell….

  18. TC@LeatherPenguin Says:

    Given Keillor’s reputation for being, well, a jerk,…

    When did he get upgraded from Blithering Idiot?

  19. duane Says:

    Don’t worry Will, Seattle’s “Summer Nights on the Pier” have been temporarily moved to a new venue so that the pier can be refurbished, it’ll be back next year.

  20. Dmac Says:

    Just wait until Altman releases the film version of Prarie Home Companion (I’m not kidding). Maybe he’ll work from his own original script, not that twee crap you hear during the show.

  21. Flyer Says:

    You pays your money and you takes your chances. Don’t like it, spend your cash somewhere else. I’ve never been to Chastain, but I have friends who drive down from here (Charlotte) regularly to catch shows because they enjoy the uniqueness of the experience.

    I don’t think every show would be appropriate for the venue, and I can’t imagine how Keillor’s would be. A sleep clinic might be fine place to see his act. Artists who know the venue ought to be able to figure out whether it’s a good fit for them or not. If they come once and don’t like it they still get their payday and can choose to avoid it in the future. If they come back again, they’re either fools or whores.

  22. kev Says:

    Keillor is basically where the rest of the left will be in about 4 to 6 years. He just had a head start when the voters had the temerity to elect Ventura over Garrison’s beloved Humphrey, starting the long slide into bitter elitism.

  23. RR Ryan Says:

    Chastain park is what it is, which is to say wonderful. If you want perfect acoustics without the party atmosphere, wait. Anyone who plays Chastain plays the Fox as well.

  24. xixi Says:

    Anybody who calls Garrison Keillor a crybaby gets free Tex/Mex/Greek food and Tecate with lime at my house. Good on you Will!

  25. Tim Says:

    [snip]
    Now, I can already hear the complaining out there–“the audience should show respect to the performers.” Balderdash.
    [/snip]

    Ok then, how about respecting the people around you that paid for a ticket to see the performance? (“You” in the generic sense, I realize you weren’t there.)

  26. Edward Kennedy Says:

    No sensible man would argue that Garrison Keillor is not a jerk. But it is equally plain to see that Johnny Reb still has no idea how to behave in polite society. So in that grand tradition of Yankee tough love, casting light upon the darkness of our socially inferior southern countrymen may I offer this advice: Put away the chaw, keep your hands off your cousin and shut the hell up while the paid act does it

  27. Reid Davis Says:

    I could have predicted this particular trainwreck. Having seen GK’s show at the Fox (which is where I proposed to my now-wife; wouldn’t have done to have had anything less than a national audience for that!) I was agog at how it was going to work at Chatty Chastain.

    That said, I’ve always been able to compartmentalize when it comes to Keillor. He’s an awfully skilled, prolific writer who can be outrageously funny. But when it comes to politics he can be an utter nitwit and I lose interest in his show when he goes there. But then, that’s also true for about 90% of the musicians I dig as well.

  28. Reid Davis Says:

    Oh, and “Edward?” I’ll wager that most of the rude boys were from New York or thereabouts. After all, this is Atlanta we’re talking about — not “The South.”

  29. jeff Says:

    It’s implicit in the social contract among all members of an audience: shut the hell up and don’t ruin the experience for the other folks. If you were next to me at Chastain and were talking while the performer was performing, I’d point that out to you in much more pointed language.

    I respectfully disagree, it may be your social contract but like all other forms of contract has to be agreed upon my both parties. Chastain is, as was previously posted, a dinner theatre as opposed to a concert theatre, and if you have ever been there I am sure you would realize that it would be quite pointless to chastise fellow attendees for enjoying their evening in the manner that is widely accepted at Chastain. On top of that, I be willing to wager that a good portion of the audience are summer season ticket holders that go for the experience of getting out on a hot Altanta night as much as for the performer.

    In closing, I’d respectfully suggest that you lighten up a little.

  30. careylenn Says:

    I quit going to Chastain about 5 years ago. I REFUSE to pay $60 and up to hear about some suburbanite’s problem with their kid’s soccer coach. If I want that, I can go eat at the mall food court for free.

  31. Daily Pundit Says:

    Maybe Keillor Would Prefer That Nobody Showed Up, Instead

    Vodkapundit – Garrison Keillor, CrybabyNow, I can already hear the complaining out there–“the audience should show respect to the performers.”…

  32. richard mcenroe Says:

    Edward Kennedy

  33. Improbulus Maximus Says:

    Good Old Charlie said of Keillor: “…he’s entitled to be heard.”

    I disagree. To say so implies obligation on our part to pay heed, and I know I certainly have no such obligation, though my tax dollars are stolen to pay for his sleep-inducing rants. He’s entitled to speak, but whether he gets heard is his problem alone, and one I’m not interested in funding. PBS delenda est.

  34. Good Ole Charlie Says:

    Improbulus Maximus:

    I’ll go one further and say: “De mortuis, nil nisi bonum”.

    GKeiller is brain dead already. Why trample the corpse?

    Excuse the Latin spelling: the courses were MANY years ago…

    Regard, Imperator.

  35. Brett Says:

    GK’s a terrible writer; his words in print are blander no-sodium saltines. He can deliver his scripts with great skill, and one is fooled into thinking he has imagination, as long as he lays off the politics. Once he snarls “republican,” all dissolves into a sop.

  36. Billy Beck Says:

    I’m a stage-lighting director. When I lived in Atlanta, I worked with R.A. Roth (a top touring lights company, used to be in Tucker), and I gigged at Chastain many itmes, both on local one-offs and on tours blowing through town.

    My experience: the better the show, the quieter the crowd.

  37. Stephen Says:

    Maybe it’s the act(s).

    Bet you if it was Twain or Will Rogers or Hope or Jolson the whole venue would stop. If not, they’d have come down and worked among the tables. Especially Jolson.

    Keillor is a coming footnote.

  38. millard Says:

    As a performer for the last couple of decades in all kinds of venues, I can say with some authority that the more you suck, the louder they get. If you’re good enough, the audience will take care of the loudmouths.

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