Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The New Guy On the Prairie

This past Saturday saw the start of something new on a program founded on nostalgia and carried on an old medium. The first episode of the public radio show A Prairie Home Companion aired with new host Chris Thile (pronounced “thilly”). The show began in 1974, created and hosted by Garrison Keillor who, 42 years later, stepped down from his role as host this past July.


I was not a completely dedicated listener; basically I caught whatever I could if I happened to be in the car on a Saturday evening or early Sunday afternoon when the local public radio station would re-air the program. I particularly liked certain recurring comedic segments like Guy Noir, Private Eye or the phone calls from Dwayne’s Mom and of course, the lovingly and cleverly crafted stories that Garrison spun out of the latest News From Lake Woebegon. A Prairie Home Companion was also an excellent venue for music that I otherwise might not have sought out but loved to listen to any way: folk, country, gospel, bluegrass, jazz, opera. And throughout the program, there was Garrison Keillor, knitting all together with gentle humor and a warm voice. His voice was like the distant low rumble of thunder but not the kind that portends a storm but the welcoming herald of a spring shower.


Chris Thile doesn’t have a voice that sounds like the distant low rumble of thunder like the welcoming herald of a spring shower. He has a voice that, as Chris himself described, “has no proof that it was ever changed by puberty”. The voice is not the only difference in this new era of A Prairie Home Companion. Chris Thile is a musician by trade and is looking to guide the show towards being more of a music showcase. Also at 36 years old, half of Keillor’s age, Chris Thile has a more modern sensibility in his musical tastes. The main musical guest was Jack White, the singer/songwriter behind the White Stripes. It may seem that White would be an odd fit for APHC but the songs he performed Saturday night seemed to at once fit the APHC mode while expanding the borders of what we can expect on this show going forward.


The comedy is not gone but without Garrison Keillor’s signature style and wit, it did seem a bit flat. Still, Chris’s opening of the show was funny and I liked the sketch Chris participated in about the sleep app that is really weird and appears to be singling Chris out for abuse. And there were some carryovers from the classic APHC such as the Powdermilk Biscuit jingle at the bottom of the first half hour, an appearance by Be Bop A Roo Bop Rhubard pie, the reading of greetings from the audience at the top of the 2nd hour and starting off the show, the classic intro tune: “I hear that old piano coming down the avenue…”.


Chris Thile is a different kind of host from Garrison Keillor and ultimately that is a good thing. Keillor is a unique performer and no one could ever replace him. But as Keillor found and conveyed his joy transforming words into stories, Thile’s joy in his music is equally abundant. Thile’s sheer happiness at being in the role as the new host of A Prairie Home Companion is a palpable thing and really got the show off to a great start Saturday night. It may not sound exactly like the show you once knew but I imagine the show Garrison Keillor retired from in 2016 did not sound exactly like the show he started in 1974. While APHC was a show founded on the nostalgic appeal of old time radio programs, it was a show that was acutely aware of the world as it exists in the now and the show adjusted accordingly without forgetting its roots. The arrival of Chris Thile is just the latest step in the show’s growth and that’s all right by me.


As long as we remember that A Prairie Home Companion is brought to you by Powdermilk Biscuits: heavens their tasty and expeditious!


Thanks for dropping by. Tomorrow, we look at Supergirl as she takes flight on her new home at the CW. Thursday, it’s part four of my Stranger Things series of posts. And Friday is a post on Wednesday’s 3rd Clinton – Trump debate.


Until next time, remember to be good to one another. 

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