“A ‘Bury Home Companion” takes audience members back in time

Published 12:10 am Monday, August 28, 2017

By Andie Foley
For the Salisbury Post

To the uninitiated, the set of Saturday evening’s production of “A ‘Bury Home Companion” may not have seemed like much. The Meroney Theater stage was littered with microphones and musical instruments, all set in front of a black backdrop with a minimally lit artist’s sketch of downtown Salisbury.

This was, of course, the intent. The production, a Salisbury Symphony fundraising effort, embodied the radio variety show feel of its namesake, “A Prairie Home Companion.”

“Radio is the theater of the mind,” said David Whisenant, WBTV personality and the announcer for Saturday’s event. “If you look up here, it’s a stage but this is not a play. It’s not about what you see up here, it’s more about what you hear.”

Whisenant and Kent Bernhardt, the production’s stand-in for Garrison Keillor (complete with red shoes), would guide the audience along this journey of mind.

“Every Saturday night for the past 35 years, this has taken place right on this very stage,” Whisenant said to set the scene. “Radios all over the country…county…are tuned in and the show is about to begin.”

Begin it did. For over two hours, attendees were treated to local talents in the form of musical performances, sketches, and jingles.

The show began with music by a group dubbed “The ‘Bury Home Companion Silver String Band,” composed of players from the E.H. Montgomery General Store’s weekly bluegrass sessions.

“They come to us from all over the globe, some as far away as China,” Bernhardt said, adding after a pause, “Grove.”

Sketches and jingles for local businesses, both the real and fictitious, were sung and acted out by the ‘Bury Home Companion Radio Players. The players began with a nod to the production’s inspiration: an ad for Powdermilk Biscuits.

Numerous other radio-style bits throughout the night would inspire applause and laughter. Selections included an ode to the NCDPRC — the North Carolina Department of Perpetual Road Construction — and a Catawba advert sung to the tune of “Green Acres” by Brien Lewis himself.

Though comedy abounded through the event, the many talented performers cultivated by Kay Peeler were awe-inspiring. Some moved the audience into tears.

Guests included Sarah Claire King and Eli Yacinthe, Olivia Tolliver, One Fret Over, Danny Basinger, Steve Harrel and Jonathan Lodgek and Teresa Mitchell Moore.

King and Yacinthe would be the first to bring the audience to their feet, performing “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” and “From This Valley.” The pair was followed by One Fret Over, joined for the evening by 16-year-old banjo player, John Lee.

Throughout the night, nods to Salisbury abounded. From a take on a Guy Noire tale set at College Barbecue with mentions of Sweet Meadow Café and Cheerwine, to a “Lives of the Cowboys” skit with nods toward Hap’s Grill and St. John’s Lutheran Church — attendees could picture it all.

Bernhardt closed with a very Keillor-esque story of a fictional Salisbury couple who thought the world was ending during the solar eclipse. The tale led to a discussion of our local faith and our need for a message of light in the darkness.

“We could use some good words in the ‘Bury,” said Bernhardt, “We’ve had a lot of trials here recently but we are a very resilient people. We have a strange capacity for coming together during times of trouble.”

Bernhardt continued, bringing together all things uniquely “Salisbury” as a fitting moral of the night’s harmonious blending of souls.

“We get (this resilience) from our faith, from the songs that we sing at our churches every Sunday. We sing together these messages of hope that inspire us to be what we know we can be, to be better than what we are.”