Damon Prestemon sits in the theater seats at the St. Mane in Lanesboro. The seats are filled when the Lanesboro-entertainer hosts Lanesboro Live!, which he fashioned after the popular late-night variety shows on television.   ANTON ADAMEK/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
Damon Prestemon sits in the theater seats at the St. Mane in Lanesboro. The seats are filled when the Lanesboro-entertainer hosts Lanesboro Live!, which he fashioned after the popular late-night variety shows on television. ANTON ADAMEK/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
"It's tough to change a part of who you are. It takes a lot of 'therapizing,'" he said laughing. Just like that, a joke is conceived in the head of Lanesboro entertainer Damon Prestemon. Immediately, he evaluates the idea in terms of how his audience would respond. "Therapizing . . . I'll use that in my next show."

Damon's entertainer and performer qualities were a product of raw, unschooled talent, and have been refined from as early in life as he can remember.

While being raised in Minneapolis suburb, Colombia Heights, Minn., Damon was influenced in the development of his quick wit by his father.

"He was quick," Damon said explaining the relationship he built with his father cracking jokes about everyone and everything.

Another influence Damon pointed to was the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson for which he was allowed to stay up and watch. Other than that, Damon isn't able to trace his talent for the stage.

"I've spent my life on stage. It's in me," he explained, telling the story of how he would get up in front of people and sing when he was five years old.

"Some people are nervous talking in front of people. I was never nervous about speaking up," Damon stated.

While still in grade school, Damon said he tried doing sports. "It became obvious that I wouldn't do that for a living," he remarked.

He took private piano lessons starting at five years old and discovered his talent in music. Damon's musicianship coupled well with a love of entertaining and he joined his first band at the age of 15.

"I started playing professionally at 21," the 45-year-old Damon recalled. Looking for gigs and a shot at a major recording label, Damon and his band traveled frequently and all over the nation. It was during that time when Damon realized he had a skill at responding to energy coming from the audience.

"I realized over time that the quips between songs were a hit," he shared. "I was always the class clown in high school, but never realized it was a skill."

Once his band went off tour and Damon moved to Lanesboro in 1991, he continued to define his character and refine his improvisation skills. He didn't realize all it would take to get him started on his current path would be karaoke.

"I met a guy from Chatfield who heard me sing karaoke and he hired me to run karaoke at small town bars," Damon explained.

Soon, it wasn't open-mic night as much as it was Damon-night. "I got a big response as an emcee. I had never considered myself to be host, but I realized I could do it," he said.

His skill resided in a natural ability to turn audiences onto his way of joking. "People who didn't even want to hear me, I was able to turn around," Damon explained.

Understanding exactly how to employ that skill became the next test in Damon's entertaining life, that and understanding who his crowds would be. At the bars, Damon said the people would more or less fit into a socially-conservative dimension in how they responded to his wit, or banter. However, at the time he moved to Lanesboro, Damon said he "didn't have a grasp on the diversity" present in Lanesboro and surrounding area.

"Agriculture and the arts don't always go together," he stated. According to Damon, one night would prove to him otherwise.

Wanting to share his musical ability and bring together people, Damon planned a night of romantic music in 1991 to be held at the St. Mane Theater. He said he didn't know what to expect. When Damon went out on the stage, it was in that moment, "I realized the community came out to support those types of events." He could feel the energy in the crowd and it was telling him Lanesboro was where he needed to be.

Damon got involved with the then-Commonweal Theatre production of Over the Back Fence and hosted the show for eight years. Then, he left to go try his hand at the music industry again; he toured the nation for almost four years before coming back to Lanesboro.

"When you are younger, you have aspirations to go to great heights," he shared. "Later, you realize your strengths, your limitations, and you find your niche."

Following what would be his last attempt to make it in the music world, Damon more fully recognized Lanesboro as the place for him. "Why not Lanesboro?" he rhetorically asked. "It is where I belong for what I do."

What Damon does is entertain.

After performing for around 40 years in hundreds of gigs for thousands of people, Damon knows how to navigate the ever-changing environment on stage. He said he never got into staged productions where everything is scripted. What he relies on instead are his improvisation skills.

"Banter makes the show flow," he remarked.

Damon couples his rapid-fire wit with an ability to feed from the crowd's energy to shape his performance. However, he has to be careful.

"I'm fast and I've been blessed, but my mouth can get me into trouble," he chuckled. "I have to edit myself."

He considers himself much like the character Sheldon Cooper on the television show The Big Bang Theory: constantly spewing random information. Damon said people who don't know him off-stage have asked him if he is like that in real life. "It is 100-percent me, but it's me inflated," he explained. His on-stage persona gets dialed up or down based on the energy he receives from the audience.

Damon considers the exchange of energy between himself and the audience to be vital to the quality of a show. "I can tell a crowd in seconds," he said noting there is more to finding out what is going to work with the crowd. Each performance presents Damon with a variety of doors, which he can choose and continue his show through. However, instead of just walking through the doors, Damon said he "tiptoes around in the beginning . . . knocking on all the doors," to see where he can go. The reason he does that is to find the middle ground in a crowd.

"There are certain people who love everything coming out of your mouth and those who are un-pleasable," Damon explained saying he never tries to satisfy those groups. "It's nonsense trying to please those that love me or those that hate me."

Instead, Damon focuses on molding the majority of audience members who are deciding if they like him. He has continued to use his talents in Over the Back Fence and plans on doing so for the future for those who frequently attend the shows.

In order to expand his audience and diversify his viewer's demographics, Damon has also started a new show this year: Lanesboro Live!

"The show is good," stated Damon adding, "if you like music, books and laughing."

Lanesboro Live! is Damon's personal project he would like to see grow independently of Over the Back Fence. Damon felt there was room for another show, through which he could utilize his own professional and personal contacts. The monthly show is halfway through its six-show season and is produced on Sunday evenings, a day which Damon said local inns and retail stores have been looking for other things to recommend for their customers. Damon is hoping audience numbers will grow and the season lengthened next year. He said he would be open to tweaking the show as needed.

Lanesboro Live!, Damon described, was modeled after several of today's late night comedy shows where a host, announcer, band leader and guests are miked up and given free opportunity to comment. Planned portions of the show such as music and skits are woven together by Damon's comedic improvisation.

"I encourage people to pick on me. I play the shocked and dumb guy very well," he said.

Other effects in the production of the show include the lighting and staging, of which Damon is proud. "There is something for everyone. You will feel uplifted by the music, enlightened by the author, and entertained by the comedian," Damon expressed. The spontaneous nature of the show is what makes it run and Damon wouldn't have it any other way. Otherwise, he would have to change, and that would take a lot of therapizing.

Damon is married to Chelsay Prestemon, has a 12-year-old daughter, Peighton, and an 8-year-old-nephew, John. The influence he has on them has caused him to realize, "I was probably an extremely irritating child when I was younger."

Damon also works at Pedal Pushers Café and runs A Guest Hus Motel.

Damon's next show, Lanesboro Live!'s fourth, will be held this Sunday evening at 7 p.m. at the St. Mane Theater and will feature the band The May North, which plays music along the lines of bluegrass and folk, but doesn't define itself on those labels. The show will also feature writer Dr. Greg Brick, who won the 2010 Heritage Preservation Award by the American Institute of Architects and wrote "Subterranean Twin Cities." A new locally grown co-host will join Damon as well. Nathan Davison and the house band The CBB Jazz Combo will play a few tunes with him. The show has a "PG-13" rating. It is presented in partnership with the Lanesboro Arts Center and made possible by the Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant.

Tickets are $15 and $12 for Lanesboro Arts Center members and can be purchased at the Arts Center, over the phone at (507) 467-2446, and at the St. Mane Theatre beginning at 6 p.m. on show nights. Other upcoming shows are on Sept. 1 and Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. at the St. Mane Theater.