Band members were grinning as their raucous beer medley swung its way around the audience seated in the St. Louis Fox Theatre. Polka music flirted and twirled. Fiddle player Richard Kriehn raised his violin to take a solo, but in that moment, his bow slipped and snagged itself on the violin microphone. With four million listeners also tuned in via National Public Radio, crunching and screeching filled the air as Kriehn struggled to pry the bow loose.
“Great…” thought Kriehn, who was on his debut tour with the band. “I just wanted to crawl under a rock at that point.”
After a few embarrassing seconds, the show went on and so too did Kriehn, who travels with Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion radio road show—as a member of The Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band.
Kriehn is also an instructor and academic advisor in Washington State University’s School of Music, where he teaches violin, mandolin, viola, and guitar. In 2006, he sent a sample of his music to A Prairie Home Companion, hoping to land a place in an upcoming performance at Pullman’s Beasley Coliseum. The music director invited him to sit in with the band and things gradually unfolded from there. Kriehn now spends weekends with the group, playing about thirty shows a year plus special tours.
“It’s been such a great experience,” says Kriehn, “and if it had been a single gig, a single month, it wouldn’t have mattered. It’s just been fun.”
His students benefit from that fun in turn, with Kriehn providing professional tips such as how to book gigs and fill basic sound equipment needs. He also brings inspiration, sharing musical ideas from the show with his guitar class.
On the other hand, Kriehn is inspired by his students and can “put on his teacher’s hat” to help organize young performers on the road. In certain cities, he has arranged fiddle medleys for teenagers—assigning parts and writing out charts for the recital.
To hear more of this story and get an inside glimpse at the production of A Prairie Home Companion, watch the following video.
A Prairie Home Companion can be heard on Northwest Public Radio, a community service of The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.