Mandolinist Chris Thile will take over as host of A Prairie Home Companion in October, replacing the show's creator, Garrison Keillor. On a recent visit to the Twin Cities, Thile talked with Cathy Wurzer about his creative process and his expectations for the post-Keillor Prairie Home. He said he hoped longtime fans would enjoy the new show. "If the music's good and it's funny, then we're going to be fine," he said.
Thile said that his experiences as a guest host "have been among the most stimulating of my entire life" and that performing a live radio show is "just the most thrilling feeling in the whole world. It's riveting. It's so engaging. I can't wait to do it again."
Some highlights from the interview:
On what listeners can expect from the new Prairie Home:
"That thing that [Keillor] created, like most truly great works of art, it's immortal. ... We'll all keep using the template he created to tell each other stories and to escape from our daily cares, but also to celebrate the daily cares. That's the real magic trick that Garrison performs week in and week out, to both relieve you from those cares but then also to celebrate them. That's truly special. I want to make sure that we have that place every week, to keep doing that. Of course the show will change to reflect the fact that its new host is not a writer but a musician. ...
"I would like to write something new every week. So far, in the shows that I've hosted this year, I've written a new song for each show. I want to keep doing that. It's so much fun. ... In the two shows I hosted earlier this year we had a comedian, Maria Bamford, incredibly funny, and she did five or six minutes of hilarity. And we also had the actor Ed Helms, who told a great story about catching a cricket. I think we'll have that kind of thing going on."
On whether Keillor will be part of the new show:
"He's such an amazing writer that if he comes up with an idea that would be good for the show ... I imagine we'll get a script here and there. I love attempting to act. That's fun. Who knows? Maybe he'll hear of some guest coming on and have an idea about a scenario that he could throw them in the middle of. Also I think were he to want to come back and do six, seven, eight minutes on the show, [we'd] just wind him up and let him go."
On his view of the creative process:
"It's very dangerous as a creator of things to feel that you are basically mining yourself for content. Because I don't think any one of us has that much content in ourselves. We are vessels for stories to take root in and to grow, and eventually we can harvest those stories. But we're not a mine ... we're a public transportation system. We can take people from one place and drop them off in another place. If you're paying attention, then you're just constantly filling up the well. The well can't go dry."
On the risks of trying to fill Keillor's shoes:
"We can't put on the same show. It will necessarily be not as good. Because I'm not Garrison, so I can't put on Garrison's show nearly as well as he can. We have to put on a new show. We'll use his template, which to me is profound and immortal. Like a great piece of art, it will outlive all of us. This two-hour format with significant amounts of talking, comedy, storytelling, that is a recipe for delight. I love the overall arc of one of these two-hour broadcasts. That template is a constraint that I don't feel as such. To me it's a springboard. It gets my mind cranking. When I think about what we need to do to fill those two hours, having that template he created puts gas in the tank. It's like super premium unleaded."
On whether fans of Garrison Keillor will like the new show:
"It's going to depend on what people listen to the show for. If you listen to hear Garrison Keillor's voice, which a lot of people do — I have been one of those people, I love hearing Garrison's voice, but I've also listened to the show because I love music and I love to laugh and I like thinking about being alive — but I completely understand if people just really want to hear Garrison. If they're Garrison Keillor fans, if they are listening to hear Garrison's voice, then they are not going to like the new show. If that's the only reason they're listening. But we will put on a good show. There's going to be good music and there's going to be funniness all the time. If people give us a couple of shows ... It's up to us to make sure we give you a reason to listen a second time."