He was only 15 when Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers frontman Chris Thile first performed on NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” the iconic show created by host Garrison Keillor. Now, 20 years later and with Keillor retiring, Thile is taking over the hosting role permanently. We talked to him about making this historic move and changes he has in mind for the beloved show.
Keillor incorporated christianity into the show with things like hymns and stories about churchgoers. Do you still see that playing a part in the show?
I do, because it feels like a part in American life. Garrison found a way to make that inclusive; he was constantly questioning religion, but it still factors heavily into American life. We all have a relationship with it in some form or another, whether we’re atheist or born again or Muslim or Jewish. Everyone has those questions.
I think Prairie Home Companion itself has a church-like role to a certain extent. It comes on from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday evenings, it has always been geared toward families and there’s this communal aspect.
The show always handled religion with reverence, do you see that as a key aspect moving forward?
Ultimately Garrison, in my opinion, is a lover of things not a hater of things. And I think that was clear in the way that he would describe biting into a summer tomato or in the way that he would sing one of these hymns. Whatever he thought about the faith, he respected the idea of faith in general—of all faiths and all beliefs. If there’s anything I would like to continue doing, it’s that.
Are there new artists you want to introduce ‘Prairie Home’ fans to?
I love the two-way street aspect about that. Garrison was my age when he started the show. My parents introduced it to me, and I’ve continued to listen. But not everyone my age has … If I can lure someone like Anderson .Paak onto the show, you can bet I’m going to do that. The great pianist, Emanuel Ax, would be so wonderful to have on the show.
The Eclectic Chris Thile
Fronted the Grammy-winning folk band Nickel Creek
Performed a mandolin concerto entitled Ad astra per alas porci
Collaborated with accalimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma and two other musicians to record The Goat Rodeo Sessions
Recorded “Sleep With One Eye Open” with guitarist Michael Daves
Took over as host of the iconic, 40-year running radio show, A Prairie Home Companion