Garrison Keillor knows the evening of Valentine's Day is a special time to perform.
"I assume I am talking to an audience trying to come up with something to do on Valentine's Day," Keillor says. "Maybe the opportunities to do something like go to a dance on a Tuesday night in Richmond, Kentucky, are limited, and maybe they have chosen this as the next best thing."
It's a safe bet that a lot of the people in the audience at the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts will not think they have settled for Keillor and company. The avuncular entertainer and author is best known for A Prairie Home Companion, his weekly radio show that is heard on public radio stations around the country, including both Central Kentucky public outlets: WEKU-88.9 FM and WUKY-91.3 FM.
Although Tuesday's performance will not be a Prairie Home show, it will bring in some familiar voices: longtime music director Richard Dworsky and singer Heather Masse.
"It's an improvised show that centers on romantic duets and stories that deal with love, and I do a few sonnets of my own — love sonnets," Keillor says. "I'll do the Shakespeare sonnets — 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments' and 'When in disgrace with fortune in men's eyes,' two great Shakespeare love poems — and I may do some others as well. Valentine's Day, I think, is a great day for poetry — 'My love is like a red, red rose' and 'Come live with me and be my love' — Yates and so many others.
"That's the heart of it, but exactly what's in the show sort of depends on where we are, what happens, what we think of at the very moment."
Though this will be Keillor's first visit to the EKU Center, which opened in September, he has been to Kentucky numerous times, including for a broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion from the University of Kentucky's Singletary Center for the Arts in 2000. As the show nears its 40th anniversary, Keillor has no intentions of winding it down, short of personal catastrophe or something of that sort.
"It still is a lot of fun to do," Keillor says. "It's certainly a lot more fun to do now than it was in the beginning. In the beginning it was really a grind just trying to figure out what to do, and who we were and why we were there. It's become almost second nature and much less work than we would like you to believe. So, there's no real reason to stop."
In his many years of presenting the Saturday night show, which originates from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minn., when it's not traveling around the country, Keillor says he has gotten to know his audience.
"They are a rather ambitious group of individualists, and at the radio show, if I have time to hang around with them, that's what I see," Keillor says. "If I ask each person two or three questions, I uncover some interesting aspect about them. They are a large audience of atypical men and women, and I like that about them."