A Note From the Host
May 27, 2016
Thank you for wending your way out to Wolf Trap for the show. I got here hours ago, driven from a nearby hotel by a Park Service employee and dropped at the stage door, and so can only imagine your trip in from Maryland or Lord knows where, the traffic you must’ve encountered and the crush of traffic you will encounter as you leave, which is like the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 or the Army of Northern Virginia’s retreat from Gettysburg, 1863, and I imagine at some point, locked in bumper-to-bumper traffic, someone in your car will ask, “Why did we ever do this?”
I’ve asked that question of myself many many times over the years, most recently while seeing the opera Electra — “Why am I watching two hours of people running around screeching in German about avenging the treachery of their mother and committing matricide? I would rather be lying on a mattress and reading a good book. One in English.”
I can tell you that in forty-odd years of doing “A Prairie Home Companion,” I never asked, “Why did I ever do this?” Maybe I thought it now and then in the first year or two, but never seriously. There have been parts of shows I regretted later but never the idea of the show itself. It’s been my vocation, and this weekend is my farewell to Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, as I look forward to retirement from the show in July. We’ve been here every summer since 2001 and I leave with great admiration for the National Park Service and the esprit of its people, from the summer interns to the grizzled veterans, backstage, front of house, or administration, and their happy commitment to making your visit as wonderful as possible. I once stood on stage, singing, and noticed two paramedics creeping into the third row to remove a man who was in distress and get him into a wheelchair and they accomplished this in the space of a song and a Ketchup Advisory Board commercial, and only a few people in the immediate vicinity were aware of it. I was impressed. I’ve done several shows here during which the heavens opened and people up on the hill blossomed out in brightly colored ponchos and tarps and umbrellas. And then there were the years when the air was vibrating with the high-pitched chirring of cicadas. And the year when the pianist Garrick Ohlsson came out in his black tux in 102-degree heat and played Chopin at a piano that was going sharp and came back to thunderous applause, dripping with sweat.
I’m retiring now so that it’s my idea and I spare other people from having to drop hints. I’ve signed up to write a weekly column for the Post so I’ll still be around and I’m writing a memoir and a Lake Wobegon screenplay. And I want to wander around on weekends and visit people and see the sights. I’ve never, believe it or not, been to the Lincoln Memorial or the Antietam National Battlefield or President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Solders Home, and I could happily spend many more days in the Smithsonian and Air & Space and the National Portrait Gallery. The time to do this is now, no doubt about it. I will miss you. Thanks for coming.