An all-American celebration

“All-American Paynes Prairie Home Companion,” with Cathy DeWitt and Ron Thomas among others appearing in a group called The New Prairie Dogs, celebrates the Fourth of July in a “Free Fridays” performance inspired by the Garrison Keillor radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Courtesy of Suzanna Mars
Published: Thursday, July 4, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at 6:31 p.m.

It may have been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minn., but the opposite is true in Gainesville. On Friday, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department presents a take on Garrison Keillor’s radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza.


‘All-American Paynes Prairie Home Companion’

What: “Free Fridays” concert celebrating America and the Fourth of July, modeled on “A Prairie Home Companion.”
When: 8-10 p.m. Friday
Where: Bo Diddley Community Plaza, 111 E. University Ave.
Cost: Free

The performance, a reprise of the “All-American Song Fest” presented annually the first week of July as part of the “Free Fridays” Concert Series, features the same kind of comedy skits and Americana music as the public radio classic, but with a local twist.

David Ballard, events coordinator for the city of Gainesville’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, says “The All-American Paynes Prairie Home Companion” show, which starts at 8 p.m. Friday, will capture a similar old-time feel with its mock commercials for Gainesville institutions that no longer exist.

“It blends comedy, music and the old radio style,” he says. “Because of the high quality of the musicians and comedians involved, I know people are going to have a wonderful time.”

Area musician Ron Thomas, who has organized the “All-American Song Fest” for four years, has assembled a new group of veteran Gainesville musicians for this year’s show called The New Prairie Dogs. The group, which includes members of The Imposters, Patchwork and The Couch Messiahs, will perform a variety of styles, not limited to 1930s swing standards, Florida folk, blues and jazz. Also performing Friday is the country and bluegrass group, Quartermoon, which is led by John and Raven Smith.

Thomas says the show will offer entertainment for all ages.

“Everybody I know seems to like ‘Prairie Home Companion.’ It has so many elements of entertainment to it,” he says. “It will provide something for everybody.”

Santa Fe College theater professor and local actor Gregg Jones, who will perform several comedy sketches in the show, says the audience will enjoy being involved in the behind-the-scenes action that a live radio show creates.

“It’s interesting for the audience because they’ll get to see how sound effects are made,” Jones says. “It’s a real auditory experience. They’ll be really involved using their imaginations.”

Jones says he’s excited to talk to the audience during a ad-lib story sketch, in which audience members will shout out various words to complete Jones’ tale.

“It’ll be an interactive show,” he says. “The audience will have input into the content of the show.”

He says Gainesville has much in common with Lake Wobegon, the fictionalized, small Midwestern town Keillor created for his program.

“I’ve started to call it the Gainesvillage,” Jones says. “I see people at Publix that I’ve known for 30 years. It really does have a small-town feel.”

Gainesville singer Cathy DeWitt, who will perform with The New Prairie Dogs, says veteran residents of Gainesville will delight in hearing mentions of now-defunct local institutions like Goerings Bookstore, Skeeter’s Breakfast House and the Strictly Folk Music Store.

“I hope audiences leave with a little bit of nostalgia, for those who remember the places we’re talking about. And for those who don’t, they’ll get a little bit of new history and knowledge,” she says.

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