Garrison Keillor's literary technique is the unlikely offspring of the New Yorker and the Farmer's Almanac, and he drew from both sources when his Sweet Corn Revue, costarring Chet Atkins, pulled into Wolf Trap's Filene Center last night. One moment he was leading the full house in a rousing sing-along tribute to a hippopotamus wallowing in the "Glorious Mud." A few moments later, he stilled the same summer-concert crowd with a devotional reading of "A Blessing" ("a poem written by my old teacher, James Wright," Keillor said). One moment Atkins was backing Keillor on a joking song about teenage love; the next moment the guitar legend was picking out an elegant instrumental medley of Beatles tunes.
So it went -- back and forth -- all night. Keillor -- dressed in a tan suit and bright orange socks -- kicked things off with a rambling monologue about the Midwest, growing old, cats and Powdermilk biscuits -- often digressing into recited verse and warbled song. Keillor is no more than a pleasant singer, but his lyrics usually carry the day; he sang a cowboy song (based on "Streets of Laredo") about the Cold War and a gospel hymn (based on Thomas Dorsey's "Precious Lord") to sweet corn. Atkins's band backed Keillor on the songs (with Keillor's son Jason joining on guitar for a few numbers).
Atkins took over for some sparkling instrumentals on his nylon-stringed custom guitar. He previewed two fine songs from his forthcoming duet album with Mark Knopfler. As always, Atkins was a dazzling technician, but his arrangements were so laid-back that the attention of non-guitarists in the audience was bound to wander. Between Atkins's first and second sets, Keillor delivered the latest news from Lake Wobegon. The droll monologue was one of his best, ranging from the theology of automobiles to the therapeutic effects of sweet corn.