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The Conclusion of 'A Prairie Home Companion' Cruise

August 21, 2006

Donna Fox's coverage of Garrison Keillor's annual fan cruise concludes. Next year, Norway!

July 20 Victoria, British Columbia

We spend the day at sea, arriving in Victoria, B. C. at 8:00PM.

In the morning we listened to Garrison, Robin and Linda singing old tunes. Later we ran into Robin who told us that they did not have any time to rehearse. At times one of them would say that they couldn't remember the lyrics. We are still in awe of how many songs they do know.

The afternoon's main stage show was the Talent Show. The passengers' talent had wowed us during the auditions we did see but we were still amazed by what we hadn't heard. Garrison introduces the four judges and announces that he will not be a judge this year. However, after every performance he tries to sway the panel by pointing out the positive aspects. In the early show the fiddler Leslie Gregory of the band Equinox from Saginaw, MI and the tenor from Lyric Opera of Chicago whose name we can't remember ended up tied for first place so they had a play-off with Leslie winning.


I was able to take in both Talent Shows by waiting until the late dinner seating folks had all arrived and then sitting in the back. The first show was by far the superior one. The main reason I wanted to see the second is to tape "The Bear Song," as we came to call it. Everyone will get to hear it when they perform on the show being held at a winery near Seattle and that will be broadcast on July 29. When you hear it, remember that almost all the lyrics were verbatim from a park brochure on how to deal with bears! We were in hysterics.

I decided to forego dinner in the dining room to listen to Jearlyn and Billy Steele in the Ocean Bar. Garrison had made a comment during one of the shows about the irony of singing gospel in a bar. Besides gospel, Jearlyn sang many other types of music. When the time allotted for the show was coming to an end, she asked what type of music she should end on. Being my usual shy retiring self, I yelled out, "Rock it out." And did she! Aretha would have been proud of Jearlyn's rendition of "Respect". Jearlyn is a gifted singer but also the consummate entertainer. She is so warm, gracious, and humble. It is no surprise that Garrison invited her on the cruise. And her brother, Billy, is no slouch either! Winner of three Grammys, he mesmerized us with his organ and piano playing.


Although torn between an excursion to Butchart Gardens and listening to Rich Dworsky in the Piano Bar, Loren and I disembark to meet the tour bus for the ride to the gardens. We were lucky to have a gifted bus driver/tour guide with a golden radio-voice who pointed out the highlights as we drove through Victoria and the 14 miles into the countryside and entertained us with anecdotes about cougars crashing into homes and businesses and almost killing his dog.

As we enter the gardens, we hear big band music, one of Loren's favorite genres. The gardens were a feast for many senses. To stand and look at what was once a limestone quarry and is now an incredible sunken garden definitely eased the loss of missing Rich's performance. Our gratitude to Jennie Butchart who saw the potential in the exhausted quarry in the early 1900s. The tons of topsoil, that line the bottom of the quarry, were brought in from neighboring farmland by horse and cart. The three other gardens, rose, Japanese, and Italian, were equally astounding although the sunken garden has a special place in my heart. One of the plaques details Mrs. Butchart hanging in a bosun's chair planting ivy on the walls of the quarry! And the incredible Ross Fountain with its multiple jets and various colored lights seemingly never repeats a pattern.

When we saw Fred and his family at the gardens, Loren asked him if he was going to make the sound effect of flowers growing. He said that he would have to think about it because he had never done it before.

We return to the ship, tired but filled with the beauty of a special place. Wishing that we had the time and energy to both pack and take in the show in the Crow's Nest, we fall into bed knowing that a marvelous experience is coming to an end. Morning will find us in Seattle.

July 21 Seattle

When Loren went to have coffee in the Neptune Lounge, he sat next to Garrison. Loren told him about the conversation he had with Fred at Butchart Gardens last evening. Garrison mused that he had never asked Fred to do vegetation. Wonder if he will in the future?

When I arrive for breakfast, Garrison is sitting at a table rewriting the script for the show later today at a winery near Seattle. We have opted not to go, feeling that it would be a letdown after the intimacy of the shows on board. Since Seattle is in the grip of a heat wave, we are pretty smug about our decision. Interestingly the six of us had come to this decision independently.

When Garrison stands to leave, we ask if we could have a picture taken with him as we did last year. Of course, he magnanimously agrees. And of course, the picture is out of focus again! I think that we will always make sure that the concierge doesn't know how to operate digital cameras since it would break tradition to have one in focus!

When we arrive at the hotel, we get the last room that is ready. Everyone else camps out in the lobby. When we return to the lobby to get on the Net, it looks like an Apple convention. Rich Dworsky, Robin Williams, and other APHC staff members are bent over their laptops. I mention this to Rich and he says that there had been even more a little earlier. Robin had told us at the beginning of the week that he had upgraded from his old iBook so he wouldn't have the problems he did last year.

Further reflections from Donna:

As I did last year, I purchased plenty of Internet access on board so I could actually send the daily blog. Let's see. Sending the blog or taking in entertainment? So I resigned myself to knowing that you wouldn't be reading this until after we returned home which was delayed by five days due to a visit to Loren's mother in California.

The delay does give us the opportunity to have some space and time for reflection. Again it is truly astounding to be on a ship with these talented performers for a week. They never disappoint and they are all so approachable. "Gee shucks" comes to mind as their reaction when we express out enthusiastic appreciation one-to-one.

This year the natural beauty of Alaska did trump the lesser-known performers' shows. We actually did not hear Kate Brislin and Jody Stecher. I only caught the Klezmer band and Redd and Cindy on Wednesday's APHC show. Last year we gave a standing ovation to the cast during the APHC show on the last night at sea. This year's schedule had the last show on Wednesday and the Talent Show on Thursday afternoon. I don't think that it dawned on us that Wednesday was the last time we would see the whole cast together.

I spoke with Fred on the stairs one day and complimented him on the previous night's show. He asked which show I saw. When I told him the one for early dinner seating guests, he said that was the better one. He said that he told Garrison it was because we were "lickered up". I wondered aloud if it was because the first show was more like a rehearsal; he agreed. Ah, the advantages of eating dinner earlier than we do at home!

One of my most memorable experiences involves getting the cast members to sign my APHC movie poster that I had picked up at Shaker Square Cinema. Garrison was the first to sign. It was the first time he had seen a copy. He approved of it since the first one was so different. He commented, "The first one had a farmhouse on it. That has nothing to do with the movie." Andy Stein asked if I had gotten the poster on the ship. When I told him, that I brought it from Ohio. He launched into a story about how Martin Mull was from Ohio and then a hysterical bit from one of his movies. When I stopped after the show with Sue, Fred and Tim to get their autographs, Fred said, "You don't want mine. I wasn't in the movie. I'm not bitter." Through my laughter, I said that I did want his. Then he revealed that he had actually written one line that made it into the movie: "It's moving like monkeys." I encountered Jearlyn with her mother on the dock of Ketchikan on Wednesday morning and asked if she would sign my poster later. She was so gracious that I asked if I could give her a hug, she reached out and enveloped me in a bear hug! Then she introduced us to her mother. All the musicians appeared surprised and pleased that I had the poster for them to sign. What a memento of our trip!

Posted by Ann VerWiebe at August 21, 2006 2:32 PM

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