And now, some news from Lake Wobegon
June 28, 2015 8:17 AM   Subscribe

After more than forty years, humorist and radio personality Garrison Keiller has announced he is stepping down as host of the long-running public radio variety show A Prairie Home Companion. During the 2015-2016 season, Keillor will be phasing himself out and handing over the reins to Chris Thile, best known for his singing and mandolin playing in Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers.

Thile has previously guest hosted two episodes this past February. Thile and his bandmates in Nickel Creek are longtime favorites of Keillor and the program.

If you're not familiar with Thile, check out Nickel Creek on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert earlier this year or Punch Brothers covering The Strokes' "Reptilia" for AV Undercover.

Ironically, the idea of Keillor giving his last performance of A Prairie Home Companion was (more or less) the subject of the late Robert Altman's 2006 film of the same name (YT trailer).
posted by DirtyOldTown (98 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I hope this doesn't mean less music from Thile. I don't give a damn about Prairie Home Companion, but I love Thile's music. He did a solo album of Bach arranged for mandolin a few years ago that's really brilliant (and that's on top of Punch Brothers/Nickel Creek/etc.).
posted by immlass at 8:21 AM on June 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Welcome to Lake Retirement, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all your NPR is funded.
posted by Fizz at 8:22 AM on June 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


best known for his singing and mandolin playing in Nickel Creek

I read that as "Nickelback" which would have been a more audacious choice for the show.

I know millions of people like Keillor, but personally I find him grating and I am glad to see the change.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:22 AM on June 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Fans of the program will be pleased to know that Thile's hosting is strong, he's good-looking, and his singing, mandolin-playing, and arranging are all above average.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:23 AM on June 28, 2015 [17 favorites]


I love Prarie Home Companion, and I love Chris Thile, so this is awesome news.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 8:23 AM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Punch Brothers song you need to listen to is Movement and Location, which I cannot seem to link to on my Ipad.
posted by wittgenstein at 8:26 AM on June 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


That is a good one, wittgenstein.

Here's a link: Punch Brothers - "Movement and Location"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:28 AM on June 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Bets on Watkins Family Hour becoming the house band?
posted by asockpuppet at 8:29 AM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's a really terrific pick, as Thile is a friend and favorite of Keillor, who has been vocal about his appreciation for the tradition of the show... and yet, the top two complaints about Keillor are that he can't sing and he's grating/overbearing. Thile is a gentle, genial presence known as one of the most musically gifted people in the entire spectrum of Americana music. Here's hoping he both honors the program and maybe shines it up a little.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:32 AM on June 28, 2015 [17 favorites]


This is long overdue. I say that as someone who has listened to and loved PHC since the mid-80s, and has read all of Kiellor's books, and seen the show live three times. For the first couple of decades, the show was sharper and witter, and Kiellor was instrumental in breaking musicians out of small-time regional folk music circles and into a larger national audience, hosting people like Nanci Griffith, Iris DeMent and Old Crow Medicine Show when they weren't household names. It's a show I have loved a lot and really transformed what was possible in public radio, leading the way for it to revive from dull 70s news and classical-music formats and expanding the field to include many more kinds of shows.

Over the last many years, though, the show has become formulaic and far less adventurous. I cringe now when I hear Kiellor try to harmonize and warble along with great musicians in an ego-driven performance that won't let him get out of his own - and their - way, or rehash the same guests and performers over and over, or sing awkward parodies that fail to be funny and come off in a sad way. The Wobegon stories are more rambling and less pointedly touching. This show was over a long time ago, it's just still being generated every week. In fact, I can't really say it ever recovered from the era when it changed and had a different title and broadcasted from Manhattan - was it called Broadway Local during those years, something like that? Something shifted at that point and when PHC came back, it just was never as good again.

I wish he'd just fold the show rather than "hand over the reins," but I guess it's still a warhorse for many public stations and the money is needed. I really wish, though, that it would just go into rerun syndication and take less public radio real estate, and create some room for whatever a next transformative American radio variety show might look like. So, a toast to the great days, and a sincere thanks to Kiellor for all he did which I do treasure, but it's okay to retire knowing he changed the course of American radio but not having to be at the center of it. I hope he'll do more writing.
posted by Miko at 8:33 AM on June 28, 2015 [31 favorites]


There was a thread a few days ago about Kim Kardashian appearing on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, and the paroxysms that it caused for some NPR listeners. People pointed out that NPR is really not into changing or updating its programs (like, perpetual zombie reruns of Car Talk! Gunsmoke episodes from 50 years ago!) and I'm still curious as to why that's the case. At any rate, I think this is a small step in the right direction.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 8:36 AM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm going to miss Garrison Keillor, but I'm super excited about Chris Thile. He's got the musical chops for sure, but I do worry that we'll miss out on Keillor's storytelling. There was some chatter about maybe Kevin Kling taking over - another Minnesotan storyteller - but maybe that was just wishful thinking from those who really love the ramble on about Lake Wobegon aspect of PHC. Personally, I tune in for the music and I'm glad that we've got a musician at the helm.

Anyway, I'm glad it is going to continue. It's such a great showcase for folk, bluegrass, and old time music.
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:37 AM on June 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Garrison Keillor will be missed for sure but if you find yourself feeling a bit sad, let me share with you someone who might help fill that void, located just a little bit further north in Canada.
The Vinyl Cafe with Stuart Mclean has a similar kind of midwestern small-town nostalgia.
posted by Fizz at 8:42 AM on June 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


I have never liked PHC, and always have found Keillor grating (I know, I'm really in the minority on this). I say this only to say that I never thought anything could make me want to listen to Prairie Home Companion, ever, but Chris Thile as host just immediately changes all of that. He's a virtuoso player and a truly gifted composer/songwriter. I look forward to listening to his version of the show.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:43 AM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm still curious as to why that's the case

It's money. Like it or not, the people who listen to these shows are the ones donating the most money to the local stations. They program for their member base and they need to hear it, in words and dollars, if there is a potential member base that would support a different programming direction.
posted by Miko at 8:44 AM on June 28, 2015


Frankly I was kinda hoping for Kevin Kling
posted by edgeways at 8:47 AM on June 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


With apologies to Fizz, I will write my first thought when I started reading this post:

"Oh, why couldn't it have been Stuart Mclean!?"
posted by crazylegs at 8:50 AM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


They should've thought outside the box and gotten Glenn Danzig to host it.
posted by item at 8:51 AM on June 28, 2015 [19 favorites]


I've listened sporadically over the years. I've always liked PHC (including the singing), in part because I grew up in the upper Midwest and have spent time in small-town Midwestern USA. I tuned in a few weeks ago, and was almost shocked to hear GK--he seemed really tired and much older than the last time I'd heard him. Maybe he was sick or the like. I'm glad to read of fhe positive reactions to the new host, and I hope GK enjoys a well-earned retirement.
posted by persona au gratin at 8:52 AM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Grating? The mans voice is positively sopoforic…you probably aren’t getting enough ketchup...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 8:54 AM on June 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


With apologies to Fizz,

"Oh, why couldn't it have been Stuart Mclean!?"


No apology necessary. I didn't say I was a fan of Vinyl Cafe or Stuart Mclean. I just shared a link for those who enjoy this particular brand of humour and nostalgia.
posted by Fizz at 8:54 AM on June 28, 2015


Henry Rollins was passed over?
posted by benzenedream at 8:56 AM on June 28, 2015 [12 favorites]


As was Jello Biafra, benzenedream...
posted by twsf at 9:06 AM on June 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Thile also has a MacArthur grant.
posted by kenko at 9:14 AM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Chuck Palahniuk could do something fun with Lake Wobegone (and cannibalism and incest).
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:14 AM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I stopped listening a long time ago, but the movie was great. It's a fitting tribute to the show and a film worthy as Altman's last.
posted by edeezy at 9:17 AM on June 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Advance to 39 minutes in.
posted by kenko at 9:20 AM on June 28, 2015


I cannot listen to Keillor raking in millions from his mansions, generated by donations and tax grants, while writing about small-town culture he has never been a part of.
For those of you that find it grating, you're probably picking up on the appropriation of poor small town culture Keillor relies on to convert tax dollars to personal wealth.
posted by littlewater at 9:29 AM on June 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I haven't listened to the show with any regularity in recent years, so someone tell me: is Thiel funny? Can he talk?

Keiller's storytelling segments are the real magic of the show. And I don't think that there are very many people who can actually do that at the level he does it at. If I were replacing Keiller, I'd have drafted Mike Birbiglia or Mike Daisey or someone.

But maybe Thiel is more talented on the mic than I'm giving him credit for.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:32 AM on June 28, 2015


Having said that, the idea of having a real musician host (as opposed to the sometimes embarrassing moments when Keiller joins in with the musical guests) seems like a good idea.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:35 AM on June 28, 2015


And if you scanned these articles, noticed the part about how Nickel Creek started in 1989, noticed Thile's baby face and joked, "WHAT? Were they accomplished, professional, touring bluegrass musicians when they were eight or ten years old?"

The answer is: YES. Yes, they were.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:55 AM on June 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


generated by donations and tax grants

I suspect that more of his income comes from his books and frequent writing for high-paying outlets like The New Yorker; I suspect he does well on merchandising, as well. I don't begrudge him a good living from his creative work, and of course you can't say he has "never" been part of small-town culture. The work is based on his own upbringing; he's mining his autobiography.
posted by Miko at 9:57 AM on June 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


They program for their member base and they need to hear it, in words and dollars, if there is a potential member base that would support a different programming direction.

You know how stations ask you to "show you support for X program and donate now?" I wish they'd allow you to show your dissatisfaction with a donation. I'd dig pretty deep if they started the pledge drive off with "Help us keep Prarie Home Companion from fouling the airwaves multiple times every weekend. Donate now." They could even keep the tote bag.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:57 AM on June 28, 2015 [8 favorites]




I'd dig pretty deep if they started the pledge drive off with "Help us keep Prarie Home Companion from fouling the airwaves multiple times every weekend. Donate now."

Whenever KALW has a fundraising drive, I tweet at them, "How much do I have to donate for access to the Jim-Hightower-free version?"
posted by roll truck roll at 9:59 AM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


For those of you that find it grating, you're probably picking up on the appropriation of poor small town culture Keillor relies on to convert tax dollars to personal wealth.
You know, I truly can't stand Keiller or PHC, but I know a couple of people who are actually from small-town Minnesota, and they love him. (And I know some people from small-town Iowa who do, too, although I also know some people from small-town Iowa who have never listened to him in their lives.) I don't buy the idea that he's exploiting something he knows nothing about, because his schtick seems to resonate a fair amount with the people he's actually talking about.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:00 AM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Our long national nightmare is over? I dunno. I really liked Keillor and his schtick when I was a teenager, but now I find him tedious as hell. Maybe this will be a change for the better.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:01 AM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


LooseFilter, you're not alone!
posted by jaguar at 10:05 AM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


My choice for new host would have been Nellie McKay. She's been on the show a few times, was great in skits as well as performing, and has a similar ability to mix humor with sort of wholesome American songbook music. Plus Nellie brings radical politics.

But man - Thile is a great pick. HUGE musical game, and a complimentary but very different demeanor.
I'm a fan of PHC and am excited for this.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:06 AM on June 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I know a couple of people who are actually from small-town Minnesota, and they love him



Yes, small town Minnesota and Wisconsin are my culture. Rural people don't listen to this, it isn't understandable to them, as its a weird parody of their lives that makes no sense to them.
Once I moved to urban Midwesten areas that's when I noticed people listen to this.
He grew up in the suburbs and has been living in posh urban neighborhoods since at least the early 80s.
posted by littlewater at 10:08 AM on June 28, 2015


The phaseover cannot happen fast enough. I hope it doesn't adversely impact Chris Thile's music, and I hope I get to hear him often.

I foreswore PHC around the turn of the century, when Keillor was developing a political humor that involved attacking and straw-manning Jesse Ventura. It was as blunt and artless as I found his singing, and the combination of the two made the show unbearable.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:20 AM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


littlewater, I spent several years of my childhood in small towns in Wisconsin near the Mississippi and visited small-town Minnesota fairly often, and I liked PHC just fine, at least when it was relatively new to me. (And Keillor is from Anoka, 20 miles outside of Minneapolis--technically a suburb, I guess, but it still would have been a small town when Keillor was growing up there. You don't have to be living way out in the sticks to have that small-town mentality; I thought La Crosse was a big city when I was a kid, even though I could have ridden my bike there.)

As for the show itself, well, I haven't been a regular listener for at least a few years, ever since my local public radio station split into two channels, an HD one for classical music and the regular channel for news and more talk-oriented programming, which they put PHC into. Since the music is what I tend to leave on when I'm puttering around the apartment, I only catch PHC when I'm driving when it's on, which isn't that often. And the show isn't the same draw that it used to be, for many of the reasons that others have already mentioned. I think that the Robert Altman film may have made the point for me that, when people like Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson, and John C. McGinley can't make Guy Noir or Dusty and Lefty particularly interesting, it might have been past time to hang them up.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:25 AM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


What a great, and potentially fascinating, choice. It is past time for GK to hang up his hat, at least to my ears, but I do not begrudge anyone a long exit from the central creative focus of their life. May his retirement be fruitful, and bring on Thile's sweet falsetto.

(And to wade into the debate about Keillor's authenticity as a narrator of middle-western small town life, let me just say that I grew up in a tiny farm town where my access to irony and satire was pretty much restricted to filching my mom's New Yorkers and puzzling over the cartoons and whatever BBC mini-series was running on Masterpiece Theater. So, discovering PHC in 1991 or so was a watershed moment both because I recognized completely the characters he presented and the fact that he was lovingly but thoroughly satirizing the hell out of them.)
posted by minervous at 10:32 AM on June 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Chuck Palahniuk could do something fun with Lake Wobegone (and cannibalism and incest).

And homemade lye soap.
posted by cybrcamper at 10:32 AM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always found the need to announce one's hatred of Keillor to be a bit oddly personal, like he kicked your dog or something, and now you'll finally get revenge! Still, I know that running errands on a Saturday will be a little less fun without his show around. Someone else may do a show with the same name, and good luck to them, but it won't really be PHC.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:37 AM on June 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't hate Keillor but I'll admit that I've never made it through a whole episode of PHC. Not even on long road trips when the only other other choices on the radio are classic rawk and Jesus saves stations.
posted by octothorpe at 11:01 AM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


You know, I truly can't stand Keiller or PHC, but I know a couple of people who are actually from small-town Minnesota, and they love him. (And I know some people from small-town Iowa who do, too, although I also know some people from small-town Iowa who have never listened to him in their lives.) I don't buy the idea that he's exploiting something he knows nothing about, because his schtick seems to resonate a fair amount with the people he's actually talking about.

I grew up in smalltown Northern Michigan listening to this show with my mom and we would laugh and laugh. These were our people. I could clearly see them in action: Stoic Lutherans, conversing over their instant coffee served up in Styrofoam cups.

This is/was the only thing in current popular culture that stars my people and actually *gets* my people. Will a California kid be able to keep this up?
posted by NoMich at 11:24 AM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mrs. Arbac and I are big PHC fans. One of our first dates was to see the PHC movie, we've been on a couple of the cruises, and we took a trip out to Minnesota for the 40th anniversary party. Chris Thile will be a fantastic replacements. His appearances are always good and I've enjoyed his two guest hosts.

I wonder if Chris will keep the home base in St. Paul? It'll be an interesting transition to watch. I'd always assumed Sarah Watkins would take over, since she'd be the only person to guest host for awhile.
posted by Arbac at 11:27 AM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


"But why now, Krusty? Why not twenty years ago?"
posted by Burhanistan at 11:52 AM on June 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


If we're doing Simpsonia:

"Be more funny!"
posted by leotrotsky at 11:57 AM on June 28, 2015


I don't get all the Keillor grar. PHC isn't some form of radio American Idol that you can't avoid if you wanted to.

I'll miss Garrison, I enjoy his story-telling and even his off key singing. One of my favorites was his eulogy for Pete Seeger (found at http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/programs/2014/02/01/ …beginning of Segment 2).

Listen to this and tell me it's "fouling the airwaves" or "an appropriation of poor small town culture".
posted by jabo at 11:58 AM on June 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fun Garrison Keilor fact nobody has mentioned: he was born into the same denomination that Aleister Crowley was: plymouth brethren. Are there any P.B.'s reading this thread? My info (of dubious reliability) is that they practice some pretty damn gonzo views like Christmas trees are pagan and forbidden and weekly church activity starts around 3:00 Saturday afternoon and goes non-stop through all wake time to around 9:00 Sunday night. If true that would probably be sufficient to give about ninety-five percent of all humans some issues.

It is possible to like the show while having doubts about the man's authenticity. The small town Lutherans I have known do not laugh at anything, and his schtick seems at its core an oxymoron. My favorite news from lake wobegon is his story about being in a bus crash coming home from college and going all over town explaining how he was in an accident and some people were killed but he is all right.

Anybody know if that story is true?

Anybody ever accuse him of stealing jokes?

I think of Garrison as a fictional character. He seems about as real to me as Gomer Pyle. Not quite as great as Gomer put pretty good like the pretty good grocery store in L. W.
posted by bukvich at 12:08 PM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


As part of my PhD studies (in Denmark), I lived in Boulder, Colorado for five months in 2000. I saw no point in acquiring a TV, but got myself a radio. I found nearly all American radio utter, utter drek, the only highlights being Coast to Coast with Art Bell (because What The Hell?) and NPR. The news programmes were fine, and Car Talk and PHC highly amusing. As a Scandinavian, I suppose I find the nearly but not quite Nordic feel to the mind set of Lake Wobegon and its inhabitants amusing. I will miss Keillor among my podcasts.
posted by bouvin at 12:16 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wish they'd allow you to show your dissatisfaction with a donation. I'd dig pretty deep if they started the pledge drive off with "Help us keep Prarie Home Companion from fouling the airwaves multiple times every weekend. Donate now."

Multiple times?! What stations are you listening to? It sounds to me like you might want to try some KetchupTM. You know, it contains natural mellowing agents!

Yeah, I don't get why some people seem not just able to dislike A Prairie Home Companion but actually hate it. It's as inoffensive as anything there's ever been. If anything it's bland, but it's still funny sometimes. If you don't like it just don't listen, it isn't harming the world, and it's not like there's not plenty of other stations to listen to.
posted by JHarris at 12:19 PM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


You can show your dissatisfaction with a donation. Just write the station with a note with your donation and specify you'd like it to fund other programming.
posted by Miko at 12:21 PM on June 28, 2015


Like Keillor, like Thile, and think this is all to the good. One of Keillor's lesser-known talents is his breadth of musical knowledge. He's very well versed in both country and classical music. That's a rare combination, but it's one that Thile shares. Was prepared for the show to fold one of these days, but now I'm hoping for a long future for it, with a continuing good sampling of bluegrass and folk.
posted by texorama at 12:25 PM on June 28, 2015


I think the mellow utter blandness of phc is what makes it so loathsome to people, myself included. I have a very visceral reaction to Keillor's monotone folksy cadence.
posted by Ferreous at 12:26 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I have a very visceral reaction to Keillor's monotone folksy cadence.

It's not his cadence I mind, it's the nasal flutter and other breathing quirks that his sound engineers don't even try to edit out. Anyway, he's a great guy and it's mean of me to kick him on the way out.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:27 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I used to enjoy the show except for Keillor's singing. He'd get these amazing musicians on, and then start that "harmonizing," and I just couldn't take it after a while. At first it was cute like, oh Uncle Gary's singing again, but then it seemed like as soon as some complaints started rolling in, he started getting... aggressive about it. Well, passive aggressive, of course. Singing all the goddamn time. Making jokes about what a terrible singer he was and then just steamrolling through. More and more singing. And the audience clapping along and speeding up the whole time with their infernal clapping. Oh god, please stop clapping.

I am interested to hear the new PHC.
posted by queensissy at 12:36 PM on June 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


This isn't the first time he's retired, either. I didn't see any mention of it scanning through the thread just now, but in 1987, Keillor ended the first incarnation of PHC in order to marry and move to Europe. He was back on the air again within a couple of years with a program called "The American Radio Company" if memory serves, which was further repurposed as the current incarnation of PHC after several years.

I for one will miss him. I recall discovering the original PHC while scanning through the lower end of the radio dial one Saturday evening in the early 80s and coming in in the middle of a Powder Milk Biscuit commercial. I think of Keillor's humor as presaging The Onion by a few years because it carefully treads that line between authenticity and absurdity, leaning just far enough toward absurdity to ease the uncertainty about whether what you are hearing is really a joke or not.
posted by hwestiii at 12:36 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm excited about this news. Not to speculate, but I happen to know that Chris Thile's Nickel Creek bandmate Sarah Watkins is married to a guy involved with Thrilling Adventure Hour. So I wonder how much MaxFun/Nerdist radio drama will be involved.
posted by sleeping bear at 12:57 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


After observing the reactions of people to Garrison Keillor in various threads I have come up with a theory: GK is the Cilantro of NPR.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 1:11 PM on June 28, 2015 [18 favorites]


My partner and I have made it something of a tradition to go to the Memorial Day-weekend performance of PHC, which always opens the summer season at Wolf Trap. We go on Friday night -- the dress rehearsal -- so that we can compare it to the broadcast Saturday performance. (It's fascinating to hear the things that get added/dropped based on how the Friday night audience responds... and sometimes, what got applause & laughter from us falls totally flat on the Saturday crowd.) It's always a great show, even better live than over the air, and somehow absolutely perfect to listen to outside as the sun sets and the crickets start chirping.

This year was our tenth year in attendance. A few years back, when rumors of GK's imminent retirement were floating around, we expected it to be our last, and were sad because it seemed too soon. That year, GK strolled right by our spot on the lawn during the sing-along, and another audience member caught me & GK in a blurry photo that still makes me smile. But then the next year PHC came back! And the next, and the next... and each time we left the performance with fingers crossed, looking tentatively forward to the next year.

This year was different. He seemed (to me at least) decidedly off his game: less coherent, less energetic, less original, less polished. He was rambly in a way that felt unplanned, and he fell back too many times on tired -- & often sexist -- cliches. If the show had ended last year I would have been disappointed, but this was a different kind of disappointment: the disappointment of seeing someone whose work I'd admired falter. Nobody sang Iris Dement's Our Town this year, yet I left with it stuck in my head all the same.

So for me, anyway, it feels like the right time; I already miss the old PHC. And I've been a HUGE fan of Chris Thile's music since first hearing Not All Who Wander Are Lost. I'm glad that PHC isn't going off the air, and I'm very curious to hear what Thile will do with the show. I'm already looking forward to seeing PHC at Wolf Trap next year.
posted by Westringia F. at 1:13 PM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm not that big on Keillor( when I'm on the road and PHC comes on I switch to an audiobook), but props to him for restoring the Fitzgerald theater.
posted by brujita at 1:43 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I haven't listened in years, but I first heard PHC in the late 70s in Northern Michigan, and trust me, it was electifying then. It was funny (then) and the musical mix was really sophisticated (classical, folk, parody) at a time when there was *nothing* on the radio. And back then, Keillor's Lake Woebegone stories were truly excellent- well written, relevant, and funny. Speaking as someone who grew up in rural Michigan, pretty accurate, too. Sometime in the mid-80s I gave a tape of Lake Woebegone monologs to my father, thinking he might enjoy them. He never said anything, so I thought he hadn't liked them. 20 years later I found him still listening to them and loving them. Now that my father is dead, I'm so grateful I gave him a good present.
posted by acrasis at 1:46 PM on June 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't get all the Keillor grar. PHC isn't some form of radio American Idol that you can't avoid if you wanted to.

Are you kidding? It's completely inescapable if you ever turn on a radio. Nowadays anywhere you go in the US outside the big cities there's likely nothing left on the radio but Jesus, ClearChannel, and an NPR station, the last of which ought to be listenable, except that at least 75% of the time it's playing Garrison fucking Keillor. And unlike American Idol, he's been this ubiquitous for literally my entire lifetime. I was force-fed this stuff as a kid day-in and day-out from the age of reason and they're playing the same goddamn episodes (or not, who could possibly tell) on a thousand public radio stations every day, decades later, the syrupy bane of every road trip.

perpetual zombie reruns of Car Talk

Car Talk is worth a thousand Prairie Home Companions. Car Talk (to which I was also subjected endlessly in my formative years) is actually funny and not so far up its own ass that it has escaped space-time altogether, like PHC.
posted by enn at 2:03 PM on June 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Multiple times?! What stations are you listening to?

The local (big-city) NPR station runs PHC twice on the weekends, from 6pm to 8pm on Saturdays and from 11am to 1pm on Sundays. I listen pretty exclusively to NPR in the car, and I'm often in the car during those times, so I end up exasperated generally at least once, if not twice, a week as I scan through other stations and generally don't find anything else worthwhile to listen to. It's not the biggest annoyance in my life, or a huge hardship, but Garrison Keillor does end up causing me frustration on a weekly basis.
posted by jaguar at 2:03 PM on June 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Jesus: Yeah, it sucks, but it's at least riffing fodder.
Clear Channel: This is annoying, yes, but you can't blame NPR for the deregulation of broadcasting allowing a single company to blanket the airwaves with mass-market drivel.

It is an annoying situation, yes, but these days anyway even I have access to a decent mobile machine that comes with a podcatching client. You can make your own radio.
posted by JHarris at 2:13 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm old enough to remember when PHC was a great show and when Keillor could actually sing. It's probably time for Keillor to step away, but I am still freaking out about how all of the hosts of everything seem to be retiring (Letterman, Ferguson, Stewart), radically changing formats (Colbert) or banished to relative obscurity (Conan). It's not that I didn't expect all of these guys to go away eventually, but do they have to all do it at once?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:21 PM on June 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


There are people who don't like chocolate.
There are people who don't like pizza.
There are people who don't like Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion.

I intellectually accept all of these propositions, but they're all rather mystifying.

Especially when it comes to Keillor's singing, which is probably the best aspect of the show. APHC may be the last remaining mass-media bastion for the ideal that singing is something humans do for the joy of it, that you don't need to have a Great Voice to be allowed to do so. (Which is not to say that his singing voice is anything approaching unpleasant.)

It's a remarkable show, all the more remarkable for being a two-hour live program—with lots of moving parts—that comes in on time every week. I will be sad to see him leave.
posted by Shmuel510 at 2:25 PM on June 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Whoo boy, comparing Keillor's singing to chocolate and pizza is a bridge way too far.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:32 PM on June 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Ursula Hitler: I live in constant fear that Terri Gross will retire, but having heard her interview with Marc Maron in which she clarifies the centrality of work to her sense of well-being, I am comforted that this day may be far in the future.
posted by hwestiii at 2:35 PM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Garrison is tired of the show and wants to go back and make "Help Me Rhonda" lunchboxes again.
posted by Twang at 2:55 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thoughts inspired by this thread in no particular order:

- Many, many rural people love the shit out of PHC and all that Lake Wobegon stuff, or at least they used to. It's also worth saying that, at the top of his form, it was harder to notice how hackneyed a lot of those tropes were, because Keillor was a really powerful storyteller and he did in fact capture a lot of small town experience. Or at least it was possible to understand it that way when you really did come from a place like that.

- PHC turned me on to a lot of great music.

- It is years past time for Keillor to hang it up. His overbearing dirty old man shtick has been gross for years, the sketches are mindless ego-stroking garbage, and it is impossible not to feel overwhelming sympathetic embarrassment every time he sings a duet with this week's attractive young singer.

- I think it is safe to say I have been to more shows featuring Thile as a performer (Nickel Creek, the How to Grow a Band era that evolved into Punch Brothers, umpteen guest bits with other musicians at festivals, Nickel Creek again) than, well, most people. He's been a core part of some of the most astonishing live music I've ever heard. The last Nickel Creek show at RockyGrass before their big hiatus and one or two of those Punch Brothers dates are up there with anything I've ever seen. The albums can be frustrating in their self-indulgent look-at-our-virtuosity-LOOK-AT-IT kind of way, but they are also full of really good material. He's as good a musician as everyone says he is, and yes, he is funny. He also clearly has an ego that could sink the Titanic. I sincerely hope that the ego-embiggening process which has more or less consumed Keillor's merits as a performer and MC doesn't do the same to Thile. I will certainly give it a chance.
posted by brennen at 3:07 PM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


When I lived in Maine, I spent my time listening to WERU which was true community radio. When I headed to the south, I listened to PHC because it reminded me of small town, even though it wasn't anything like the fishing village / weird summer arts Mecca I grew up in. Once I headed back to New England though, it fell off my radar pretty permanently as WBUR pretty much satisfied my NPR itch and didn't waste my time with classical interludes like WGBH seemed to... Not that I don't like classical music - but I've always thought classical music stations play this weird top-40 classical music mix and I always find myself listening to the same dead white guys... So yeah, PHC became irrelevant as the stories lost enough of a draw to make me listen to classical music.

Also, I found his whole spat with Jessie Ventura weirdly off-putting and not reflective of the values PHC supposedly espoused. I'm not glad he's gone, but I do hope that there's something exciting that grows from this change.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:58 PM on June 28, 2015


Are you kidding?

No, I don't think 4 hours per week = inescapable in the mass media scheme of things. But hey, I'm sorry you were forced to listen to something so much as a child that you now have such a visceral hatred of it. That sucks.

I'm also at the age where a lot of my cultural icons are either retiring or keelin over. And reading Mefi, I thought it was nice that I didn't see a lot of folks explaining why they didn't think Nick Danger was funny, that Leonard Nimoy was an awful singer or that BB King wasn't as good as he used to be.

I'm not a die-hard PHC fan… but Keillor created a fun little, innocuous radio program that features old time radio comedy sketches, story-telling and eclectic music that's lasted for over 40 years. Has it always been hilarious, erudite or in tune? Nope. Is it everyone's cup o tea? Hardly. Does it deserve a - he's raking in millions from his mansions and fouling the airwaves with his nasal fluttering and breathing quirks - pile-on? I wouldn't have thought so.

I wish him all the best and look forward to the new hosts.
posted by jabo at 4:38 PM on June 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Prairie Home Companion is a nice show largely enjoyed by people older than the readership of this site. Garrison Keillor helps to remind people growing up in small towns that they don't have to reject an appreciation of literature.
posted by Winnemac at 6:11 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's as inoffensive as anything there's ever been. If anything it's bland, but it's still funny sometimes. If you don't like it just don't listen, it isn't harming the world, and it's not like there's not plenty of other stations to listen to.

Like a lot of the actively bad things on public radio it's so smug and self congratulatory in its blandness. I missed what sounds like the glory days of the '80s and have only been subjected to it since the mid '90. Each segment tells the same "joke" every week. I occasionally accidentally stumble into it when an interesting musical guest is mid-song only to have GK's warble ruin it. And then he's poking in during the week with that poet's corner or whatever.

The only thing worse on public radio is the Capitol Steps specials. And maybe Frank DeFord.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:09 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


For those of you that find it grating, you're probably picking up on the appropriation of poor small town culture Keillor relies on to convert tax dollars to personal wealth.

Nice. Ted Cruz couldn't have said it better. Say what you want about Garrison Keillor, but your taxpayer grar about public radio is a page is right out of the tea party and just as ignorant.

Prairie Home Companion does not get one dime of taxpayer money. PHC, like most of the national shows on public radio is produced by independent content houses using their own money. They then must try to sell their shows to the local public radio stations. It is a competitive business.

One of these independent producers is NPR, which creates mostly news programs like All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Planet Money. NPR receives no tax money.

Another independent producer is American Public Media. It produces among others, Marketplace and Prairie Home Companion. It receives no tax money.

A third independent producer is Public Radio International. It produces among others, Science Friday, The Takeaway, The Point, Wiretap and other current event programming. It receives no tax money.

The only entities that receive tax money are the local radio stations themselves as grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Local stations get only 15% of their money from tax grants. The rest comes from donations and corporate sponsors. The local radio stations use their funds to operate their transmitters, produce their own local news programs and to buy national programming from the independent producers such as NPR, APM and PRI.

So Garrison Keillor is not living on tax dollars. He creates and produces his own program in his own production company, hustles up his own sponsors and has to sell his program to local radio stations.
posted by JackFlash at 10:16 PM on June 28, 2015 [25 favorites]


And I like GK's singing. I don't get not liking it. Then again, I like Dylan's and Lou Reed's.
posted by persona au gratin at 11:57 PM on June 28, 2015


I've never been particularly offended by Keillor's singing, though his legal battle with his neighbor and a few other things certainly took the sheen off him for me. I discovered APHC as a suburban California, Asian-American teenager, and I found it fascinating in its attempts to evoke the small town Americana that I'd only gotten dribs and drabs of through books and schooling (Winesburg, Ohio and such).

I do get annoyed sometimes when I catch the Saturday broadcast, only to hear it again on Sunday, but hey that's life.
posted by Standard Orange at 1:22 AM on June 29, 2015


Minnesota born and raised, and I grew up listening to PHC at the lake -- but this is years too late.

SO many things about the show were wonderful, and it gave me a logic joy over the years, but too many of its elements are tired. I hope the sound effects stories stay; I am delighted at the notion of Guy Noir never being done again. The new host is a great musician, so maybe I will tune in again after the handover.

But mostly, once Pat Donohue was gone, I stopped listening.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:52 AM on June 29, 2015


Maybe you had to grow up listening to soporific Lutheran minister sermons to truly appreciate Garrison Keillor. His voice is quite soothing. I remember listening to Garrison's PHK monolog go on about an appreciation for great tomatoes and how hard they are to find and how one year in Lake Wobegon there was a sudden abundance of great tomatoes and next how you finally get sick of eating great tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner which led to the great tomato fight. That still has to be one of the funniest things I've ever heard.
posted by notmtwain at 4:12 AM on June 29, 2015


I just missed maybe my last chance to see him live.
We were in the Berkshires this past weekend and had planned to go see the show at Tanglewood, but there was supposed to be a big storm, so we chickened out.

One of the things I like about the show is something I think Noah Adams wrote about (although I can't find it now)- how that show was not afraid of silence.
posted by MtDewd at 6:05 AM on June 29, 2015


NoMich: "This is/was the only thing in current popular culture that stars my people and actually *gets* my people [e.g, Stoic Lutherans]."

It's not quite the same, but I'm reminded of this exchange in Mad Men:
Arthur Case: You're so profoundly sad.
Betty Draper: No. It's just my people are Nordic.
posted by exogenous at 8:26 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a total derail, but in response to that last, I just learned that people in America started describing themselves as "Nordic" a lot more after World War II so as to avoid associations with Germany.
posted by Miko at 8:53 AM on June 29, 2015


I was initially shocked, but am now really excited about the possibilities of Chris as host. Most people can imagine how he'll refocus on promoting underexposed, excellent, innovative music and also apply his own talent to the musical part of the program. What may be less obvious is his passion for literature and storytelling, which will ensure that aspect of the show won't languish.

I'm personally hoping he'll transition to having some of the storytelling performed by guests, just as the music is. Imagine a The News From _____ segment, performed by different writing and storytelling talents each week. However, he'll probably evolve the show very slowly, obviously starting with the music. If he moves too fast it'll alienate the current audience. It's actually similar to his transition from Nickel Creek to Punch Brothers. He'll want to avoid a "Thile already ruined bluegrass, now he's ruining A Prairie Home Companion" outcry.
posted by gilrain at 8:54 AM on June 29, 2015


Imagine a The News From _____ segment, performed by different writing and storytelling talents each week.

I'd keep the "the news" segment as its own thing. Love it or hate it, it's central to the DNA of the show. But it would be awesome to bring some new blood into the other comedy segments. How neat would it be to see someone like Chris Hardwick writing sketches for PHC?

But yeah, he's going to have to evolve the show imperceptibly slowly.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:12 AM on June 29, 2015


I grew up in rural North Dakota and those old PHC monologues hit home. Yes, in the later years Keillor has lost his voice and his spark but there was a time when he could really chomp down on the hand that feeds. Witness again his epic 95 Theses, a scathing indictment of growing up in the upper Midwest if there ever was one.
posted by Ber at 11:11 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


DirtyOldTown, that song is really neat! I never listen to PHC, but I really like the Punch Brothers music - picked up a couple of albums.
posted by Ambient Echo at 2:09 PM on June 29, 2015


Love Chris Thile so much. I was always meh about Garrison Keiller so I will definitely be listening to it now.

If you want to check out Punch Brothers you should listen to the album 'Punch' all the way through. It is a wonderful experience.
posted by SarahElizaP at 3:08 PM on June 29, 2015


The only thing worse on public radio is the Capitol Steps

(shudder)

I could easily name things far worse, but this is about GK, who should've given it up a few years back, true, but I'm always relieved to hear his voice at 6PM Saturday. Except when he sings - especially when he "whoa's". "Whoa-whoa-whoa yeah." Every week I say, "Please Garrison, don't whoa." And he does anyway. But I tune in mostly for the radio drama, wonder how that will fare under the new directions. I'll be missing his soliloquies about the location of the broadcast and when times merit, current events. Will the Ketchup Advisory Board endure?
posted by Rash at 10:45 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


No wait that came out wrong. The Capitol Steps are among the worst, PHC much better. And the Car Guys somewhere in between.
posted by Rash at 10:54 PM on June 29, 2015


The Car Guys also waited too long to hang it up, and then didn't even have the courtesy to go away, but somehow convinced us that what we wanted was reruns of their yuk-yuk-yuk shtick and sexist humor. I agree that the Capitol Steps is outright misery but at least it's only once a year.

People feel very personal feelings about what's on their NPR station. If we had 4 or 5 public stations that played a real range of content, we wouldn't feel like sending daggers through our eyes at the radio when the same two shows hold onto six to eight hours of weekend daytime and have for thirty years. But public radio is so strangled and limited that that ends up being a lot of real estate to give up, especially when a cursory browse through a podcast aggregator or PRX reveals what an incredible wealth of other great shows are out there that we aren't hearing.
posted by Miko at 6:01 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I found it fascinating in its attempts to evoke the small town Americana that I'd only gotten dribs and drabs of through books and schooling (Winesburg, Ohio and such).


Interestingly, GK said in a NYT interview that he isn't a fan. I guess this shouldn't be a big surprise.

Q: Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

A: “Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson, is pretty dreadful, and it inspired a whole lot of bad books about sensitive adolescent males needing to flee the philistines in their hometowns. "
posted by Winnemac at 8:04 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some of his best writing and storytelling totally does mock that genre. The young writer who is always laboring over his novel "The Flaming Heart," for instance, or Johny Tollefson who's so painfully embarrassed by his family and wishes they'd act more like the sophisticated Flambeaus in the Flambeau Family Mystery Series.
posted by Miko at 12:13 PM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


A: “Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson, is pretty dreadful, and it inspired a whole lot of bad books about sensitive adolescent males needing to flee the philistines in their hometowns. "

He ain't wrong, at least if 1990s Nebraska highschool one-act play contest adaptations are anything to go by.

(Or am I thinking of Our Town? I can never remember this.)
posted by brennen at 1:02 PM on June 30, 2015


I re-read my comment up above, and this being the internet, thought about either of GK or Thile reading it, and I feel like kind of a dick. Both dudes are unimaginably greater contributors to their respective domains than I am in mine, and have made things that have brought me a lot of joy. I should spend less time being that guy on the internet with an opinion about people.
posted by brennen at 1:40 PM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


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