Music enthusiasts in Wisconsin recognize the gem that is Bayfield's Big Top Chautauqua. Every summer the big blue tent hosts dozens of live performances, some telling the history of Wisconsin, Lake Superior, and nearby Minnesota to original music, while other shows highlight the best of America's musicians from a variety of genres. For the folks who can't make to the blue canvas itself, Wisconsin Public Radio has a weekly show dubbed "Tent Show Radio." For the past few seasons, author, musician, and sometimes pig farmer/volunteer EMT Michael Perry has hosted the radio program. As Michael tells in the book, he also sometimes m-cees the actual live tent performances.
As part of both the radio and the tent shows, Michael has a brief monologue time, and he has gathered a series of those monologues into the book From the Top for Wisconsin Historical Society Press (softcover and e-book). I've read several of Michael's books which are thoughtful reflections on finding his place, not out in the cosmopolitan world, but back in rural Wisconsin --- a life he probably never thought in his twenties would be the life that fit. My favorite book remains Coop which describes settling on the little farm homestead that had been in his wife's family and beginning to embrace a more self-reliant, sustainable lifestyle. Building his chicken coop, getting those first chickens, and his wish to pass on his sustainable philosophy to his step-daughter by having her "bale" her own guinea pig food had me laughing out loud. Much of the same humorous introspection and
reflection on modern life fills the pages of the more recent From the Top. I could almost hear his rich voice as I read the short pieces. While this time I did not break out in belly laughs, I kept thinking how fortunate his wife and daughters are to have someone who can articulate how much he cares; and we readers (especially those from Wisconsin) are just as lucky to get an occasional glimpse into their life in the rural hills. For those of you who have never read anything by Michael Perry, have not seen him on Public Television, nor heard him on radio, don't start thinking he is just a farmer boy with a nostalgic bent; Perry can take on some quite philosophical and deep topics just as easily as he tell about plowing the family driveway during snowstorms. Almost everything he writes will have you thinking for a time. And since it's late Saturday afternoon, I may just tune the radio to Wisconsin Public Radio so I am ready for tonight's Tent Show program. Wonder what Michael will have to share?