Meet Chris Thile: The New Host of A Prairie Home Companion

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Chris Thile

A Prairie Home Companion is a Saturday night staple for radio audiences everywhere, featuring a unique blend of musical performances and comedy.

And starting this Saturday, musician extraordinaire and MacArthur Genius Grant winner Chris Thile will take over for Garrison Keillor as the show's new hostChris' musical background is far-reaching: by age eight, he had launched his band Nickel Creek, and later, Punch Brothers -- both Grammy-award winning. At 15, he made his first appearance on A Prairie Home Companion, leading to years of collaboration with Garrison, and a personal endorsement of Thile as the show's next host upon his retirement.

Saturday's show reflects a new era for A Prairie Home Companion, and Chris will bring special guests Jack White and Lake Street Dive to the stage, plus Irish comedian Maeve Higgins.

Tune in Saturday to 93.9FM and NJPR at 6pm to hear the show live. And hear a rebroadcast on Sunday at 11am on AM820 and NJPR.

More Prairie Home:

  • Listen back to Chris Thile's interview with Leonard Lopate.
  • Purchase tickets to see A Prairie Home Companion with Chris Thile, live at Town Hall on December 3rd and 10th at 5:45 p.m. 

Read Thile's letter to public radio listeners explaining his vision for the show going forward:

Fellow Public Radio Lovers,

First of all, thanks for reading this. Starting a conversation with you is one of the most exciting parts of what I’m finding to be a roundly exciting endeavor.

Here’s a little too much about me: I grew up in Southern California and Western Kentucky (we moved when I was 14), the eldest of three boys. My folks were and are devoted public radio fans, who started listening to A Prairie Home Companion in the 1980s; Garrison and Co. were the permanent headliners of their weekends. Many of my earliest memories feature my little brothers and me frolicking (quietly, by request of Mom and Dad from the couch) to performances from the likes of Chet Atkins and Jethro Burns, listening to the News From Lake Wobegon, and singing along to the Powdermilk Biscuit jingle.

Those Saturday evenings were topped off with a drive to a nearby pizza place for a couple more hours of live entertainment, provided by a locally beloved bluegrass band. Suffice it to say, anyone who spends the first 200 or so Saturdays of his life thusly is bound to become utterly obsessed with music.

I’ve picked up a few other obsessions over the years: Tolkien, baseball, Wodehouse, coffee, Federer, cocktails, and perhaps obsession itself. (I figure the more completely one is preoccupied with weird, wonderful things, the better one’s chances of making new weird, wonderful things!)

And speaking of weird, wonderful things, there was that voice mail I received two years ago from one Mr. Keillor: “Hi, Chris. It’s Garrison Keillor. I’d like to discuss something with you that I think you may find interesting. Or maybe you won’t. Either way, call me back.” I nervously obliged and listened dumbstruck as Garrison began laying out his plan.

So here we are, smack dab in the middle of that plan. And frankly, I’m chuffed as all get out.

A Prairie Home Companion is such a profound, transcendent variation on the grand theme of the variety show. My job is to compose/improvise variations on that theme, and a good variation never strays so far that the listener loses sight of the source. With that in mind, we’ll be changing the actual format of the show very little. (If it ain’t broke ...) But I also look forward to expanding our reach. Not that the show will suddenly be geared specifically toward millennials, mind you! It will be for anyone who loves good music and good fun.

There will still be musical guests, drawn from the width and breadth of music new and old. We’ll add a spoken-word guest to every show — maybe a comedian or actor, novelist or poet. And look for all involved to weave those talents together.

For now, please let your local public radio station know your hopes for A Prairie Home Companion as it moves forward. It is indeed a conversation, and we want to hear what you’re thinking. Here’s what I’m thinking: Garrison Keillor has given us a truly extraordinary, immortal radio show that is for and about all of us. LET’S GET PSYCHED!