Keillor sings city's praises

Remember when about the only act you could regularly count on being booked in Columbus (and not being canceled a month before the show) was Hank Williams Jr.?

No disrespect intended to Bocephus and all his rowdy friends (they’re still welcome), but there are a lot more entertainment and artistic options in Columbus these days.

That’s been the case for a while now. But perhaps nothing has brought the point home more tellingly than the live broadcast of Garrison Keillor’s iconic "A Prairie Home Companion" Saturday night at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.

For anybody who might not have heard it, Keillor’s show was practically a rhapsody to Columbus: our springtime beauty, our hospitality, our food (he sang the praises of our incomparable barbecue places — by name), our manners, our climate, our river, our downtown, our university, our people.

Columbus in turn showed its best, and Georgia’s. (No drunk yuppie nitwits disrupted the show loudly taking pictures, as happened at Chastain Park in Atlanta.) Local guitarist and singer Jake Fussell shone. At Keillor’s request, CSU professor Virginia Causey, folklorist Fred Fussell and Carson McCullers Center Director Cathy Fussell contributed local perspectives on the South that had the sellout crowd alternately applauding and roaring with laughter.

And all this was heard by Americans from coast to coast. What an opportunity — more than one, actually.

The first and most obvious opportunity is to parlay the exposure and the kudos into even greater triumphs, and not just in the arts. The exposure Keillor and Co. provided us can be invaluable in convincing people that this is a good place to live, work, play and invest.

A more intangible, yet at least as important, opportunity might be especially timely as this newspaper and its readers spend a week taking a hard look at how well we really get along: That’s the opportunity to live up to the image of us Keillor transmitted, literally, to the rest of the nation and the world.

That doesn’t mean we need to remake ourselves in the Lake Wobegon creator’s image of Southern charm and grace. (He is, after all, still a Yankee, so he doesn’t really understand everything about us.) But the Columbus the rest of the United States heard from and heard about Saturday night is a place that could pay off, tangibly and intangibly, long after a popular radio host and his ensemble have moved on.