Count This Penny
It was a proud two hours for Wisconsin listeners of Saturday night's broadcast of the public radio variety show A Prairie Home Companion, as Madison-based Appalachian pop duo Count This Penny gave a powerful trio of performances and mixed it up with legendary host and creator Garrison Keillor.
Recorded live from the Milwaukee Theatre, Keillor introduced the band's Amanda and Allen Rigell toward the end of the first hour of the show, talking about their Tennessee roots, joking about the "lure of employment" that brought them to Wisconsin, and how the married couple first met in high school and later began recording music together.
"And then you met and started singing and then you got married?" asked an interested Keillor."Or got married and then started singing?" He added: "Get your stories straight here, Allen."
"We got married and then got rid of our television and then we had to start singing," replied Amanda Rigell for her husband with good humor.
Opening with "Plymouth Duster" from their Gone EP, the duo's folksy and melodious voices intertwined and echoed off the theater's walls, reaching out to listeners at home through their radio speakers. The performance was greeted with an enthusiastic round of applause.
Asking about the origin of their band's name by Keillor, Amanda Rigell went into a detailed and humorous anecdote.
"[Allen and I] are both public television and public radio babies, and big fans of the Muppets and Sesame Street," she said. "There's a Sesame Street skit in which Grover is talking to a little boy named John John, and John John loves to count. And Grover says, 'John John, I love you.' And John John says, 'You love me?' And Grover says, 'Yes I love you.' And John John [who is holding a penny] says, 'Count this penny.' And Grover looks at the camera, and then looks back at the penny and says, 'One.' And the kid is so happy, and he says, 'One.' And it's just really sweet." (Here's a clip of the skit.)
With comedic silence from Keillor at the long explanation, the audience erupted with laughter. Followed by a second performance of the murder ballad "Big Tall Pines", Amanda Rigell joked, "I feel Sesame Street to a murder ballad is a good segue."
Reintroducing the duo toward the end of the show, Keillor remarked, "I really liked it when you sang that murder ballad. Big, tall sounds came out of you!"
Count This Penny then ended with "Pitchman", a song that's "a metaphor for a terrible man," said Amanda Rigell, adding good-naturedly, "But it's not about Allen."
More laughter ensued, and the group concluded the night with a soulful melody about a silk-tongued man whose words sometimes cut like a blade, their voices coalescing on the end chorus: "You ain't nothin' but a pitchman/You ain't nothin' but a talker/selling snake oil made from holy water."
"We had a wonderful time performing last night on APHC," Amanda Rigell later wrote in an email. "Rehearsing with Guy's All-Star Shoe band was a special highlight for us and meeting Garrison Keillor was an honor, of course. Everyone who works on the show was awesome -- warm and welcoming. We grew up listening to the show with our families and they flew up from Tennessee to be in the audience last night, so it was an especially big night for us."