Popular band member takes it solo

Friday, March 11, 2016

March 11, 2016
Shelley Koppel
Staff writer

STUART — Fans of “A Prairie Home Companion” on NPR know the work of Pat Donohue. He is the long-time finger-picking guitarist and songwriter for the “Guys All-Star Shoe Band.” In addition to his work on “Prairie Home Companion,” Donohue has had a successful solo career, including the winning of a Grammy Award for his participation in “Pink Guitar,” a compilation of Henry Mancini tunes on acoustic guitar.
Now Donohue has left the radio show and ventured into an entirely solo career. He appears at the Lyric Theatre March 17 and spoke recently from his home in St. Paul, Minnesota about his music and this new facet in his career.

Donohue grew up in St. Paul and became interested in the guitar as a teen. His first instrument was the drums.

“I started playing the drums and had a garage band as a drummer,” he said. “My older sister played folk guitar and was the guitar player in a rock band. I watched her and switched at 17 or 18.”

The finger-picking Donohue has won the National Finger Picking Guitar Championship.

“Guitar players strum, with a pick, called flat picking, or with their fingers,” he said. “Not too many people do both. I wasn’t comfortable with the flat pick. I felt closer to the guitar with fingers.”

For the championship, Donohue said that originality and execution were important.

“If you do something nobody’s heard, that’s impressive,” he said. “I tried to do things I hadn’t heard others do.”

Donohue writes much of his own music. He said there were a number of elements that went into a good song.

“The song should be about something,” he said, “Preferably, it should be something that resonates with most people. The ultimate goal is emotion, to create an emotional feeling musically.”

Donohue was known for parodies while on “Prairie Home Companion,” and he said those were fun to do.

“I did a lot of that sort of thing,” he said. “I’d take an overused or familiar tune and make it about something totally different. The (original) songs will survive (the parodies.) It was a lot of fun to be in that band and when I play shows with a band, those are the guys I use.”

For his show at the Lyric, Donohue said the audience will have a mix of music, including visits with some tunes that are his old friends

“I don’t talk a lot, but I do try to become friends,” he said. “There are certain ways to set the flow the best from song to song and mood to mood. I’m getting to inhabit some of the songs I wrote for ‘Prairie Home Companion’ and played once. I wrote them five or 10 years ago. The show is a pretty good selection of classic blues and jazz with my own contemporary American music. My style is from the early American blues guitar players. The music is folk or I’ve written it myself or it’s Hank Williams or Bob Dylan.”

March 17, the night of the concert, is St. Patrick’s Day. Come and have a good time with a guy named Donohue.

Pat Donohue performs at the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart, March 17 at 7 p.m.Tickets are $35. Call the box office at (772) 286-7827 or order online at www.lyrictheatre.com.