David Royko Psy.D
Farewell to Chris Thile's Live From Here
June 17, 2020
By David Royko
There are musical eulogies all around for the now late-great "Live From Here", just cancelled by public radio. And it deserves them -- it was a great show.
In fact, I'm in the crowd that loved Live From Here having not loved it's previous incarnation as the virtually eternally-running Prairie Home Companion (and which may or may not have retained that name if not for Keillor's MeToo turn in the pillory -- he owned the PHC name and brand).
Man, did that show frustrate me. I could not stand Keillor's Lake Wobegon shtick, along with the retro radio plays, and his manner in general. And frustrating because I had to sit through all of that to get to the many, many great musical guests -- like Thile himself in the mid '90s, when he was 15 years old. He was not a complete unknown -- I'd already covered his amazing first album, Leading Off, for the Trib in 1994 -- and that was one PHC episode I weathered so as to hear everything the kid did. But I rarely could stomach the ample Keillor kale (I hate kale) to enjoy the tasty musical burgers.
Thile changed all of that. The two hours became a music show first, shifting from shtick to picks, and bows, and genres and styles galore. Sure, there were some bits of radio drama and comedy and shtickyness, but the ratio was flipped.
And even some of the new recurring bits were absolutely wonderful. Musical Birthdays, with Thile and his musicians playing bits and pieces of the birthday boys' and girls' (classical, bluegrass, rock, jazz, broadway, folk, klezmer, rap, country, etc etc etcetcetc...) was always a delight.
And then, there was Thile. To be able to tune in weekly and hear this musical giant of our time take pick to strings, wow. Plus, his "Song of the Week!" To come up with winner after winner, week after week, composed while leading his whirlwind life -- even enough to stock at least one CD, "Thanks for Listening" -- that too will be a hole in the week's radio.
But I'm not really sorry to see it go. Yes, it is too bad, but it now joins that rarest of rare musical media legends, like David Sanborn's two late '80s seasons of network television's Sunday Night/Night Music, late night musical potpourris that music geeks of a certain age will always remember with passionate gratitude (check out YouTube). So we'll always have Paris, in the archives of Live from Here.
And maybe best of all, Thile will have MUCH more time to do other things, more musical things. Being the star of such a show has to be a time-suck of superhuman commitment. Even a genius only gets 24 hours in a day, so now there are more hours for music instead of artistic administration.
And, all those new musical connections! The best players and singers and composers from every corner, geographically and musically, of the world are now in his Rolodex. Thanks to Thile's 3+ years piloting this auditory cruise ship into every dock and port of call, the potential for collaboration is nothing short of breathtaking.
So thanks for all of the great music, Maestro Thile, and may Live from Here help stoke the rest of your life from here, and to come.
And for that, thanks in advance.