An Evening in Fredonia With Guitarist Pat Donohue

I stood in the lobby of the 1891 Fredonia Opera House, in upstate New York, passing the time by looking at my phone while my husband sought out our will-call tickets. We were there to see Pat Donohue, Grammy-winning guitarist.

From Pat Donohue's press page.

From Pat Donohue’s press page.

Pat Donohue is well known for the almost-two decades he spent as a guitarist for the Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band on Minnesota Public Radio’s A Prairie Home Companion. Now he tours the country giving guitar workshops and concerts.

I looked up from my phone to see a man with tousled white hair approach the table I was near. He arranged stacks of Pat Donohue CDs on the tablecloth, and when he finished, he said hello and walked back into the theater. Why did that man look so familiar?

Most people who know me have heard me say that I never forget a face. For instance, I’m convinced my husband and I had a chance meeting on a street corner when we were pre-adolescents.

It turns out that the reason the CD man looked so familiar was because, well, you guessed it already, I’m sure. Yes, it was Pat Donohue himself, and the last time I had seen him was 13 years prior, the last time he played at the Fredonia Opera House.

Immediately, I wished I had been friendlier to him. Said something witty. Made conversation. Asked for an autograph.

Donohue’s time on stage went by much too quickly for my husband and me. It was a show with just one man and his guitar. My husband is a talented guitarist, himself, so we sat in the front row to appreciate Donohue’s fast-flying fingers up and down the fretboard and across the body of his instrument. He had no set list and played whatever came to mind. The effect was as if he had pulled out his guitar at a family gathering. In between the musical numbers, he told witty and amusing stories.

In addition to being an expert fingerpicker, Donohue’s an accomplished song writer and has even written some parodies. Most amusing is Would You Like to Play the Guitar?, which is set to the tune of “Would You Like to Swing on a Star?” It provides a true view of a musician’s less-than-glamorous life.

In the program insert, I read that Donohue also appeared in the 2006 movie version of A Prairie Home Companion, so on the way home, I added the title to the top of my Netflix DVD.com queue. Within a few days, we were watching the movie in our living room. This is what I like about the DVD service. There are many more titles to choose from than you’ll find in streaming Netflix. Whenever I want to check out a movie, I consult the streaming first (instant gratification), and if it’s not there, I’ll usually find it on the DVD service.

The A Prairie Home Companion screenplay was written by Garrison Keillor, and the plot takes us inside the workings of the fictional last broadcast of the famous radio show. It stars Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, and many, many other big names, including a young and sweet Lindsay Lohan, before her “career interruption,” as Wikipedia puts it.

As we were watching the film, we frequently spotted Pat Donohue among the musicians on stage. We saw much more of him in the musical extras that are included on the DVD. In fact, the extra content is quite extensive on this rental, even for one produced before such content became restricted. It features many actor interviews and creative insights.

Pat Donohue’s performance at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House was part of the Folk in Fredonia Music Series, which has been sponsored by the Gilman Family for nearly two decades. We hope to see him again soon.

Ann Silverthorn

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Posted in Culture, Entertainment, Music, Reviews

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