I saw the new iteration of “A Prairie Home Companion” this evening. Like most every public radio listener, I was skeptical of anyone trying to replace Garrison Keilor. He had done the show for decades, and his bits like “Guy Noir” and “The News from Lake Wobegone were iconic. And while he may have a face for radio, he also has the voice for it. It’s like a warm bowl of oatmeal on a cold winter morning, not exciting, but definitely comforting.
I wasn’t upset with the choice of Chris Thile. I knew his music from the Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek, but that was about all I knew about him. Turns out, he’s a genius, literally. He won a McCarthur Genius Grant. He also seemed to understand what he was getting into. He’d be replacing Garrison, but he wouldn’t be replacing him. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to pull of GK’s iconic bits. Being a native Californian, he probably wouldn’t be able to relate (at least not right away) with the grey-haired, hot dish-eating midwesterners who made up the core of the audience. (I’m an exception, not a rule.) He also seems like a genuinely good person who doesn’t have much of an ego.
So when I sat down in my seats tonight and the band came out, I couldn’t help but root for the guy. I wanted the show to be good, and overall it was. It was a different APHC, but I had a lot of fun. The musicians were all talented, his monologues were sincere, and jokes were all pretty good.
It felt good to be genuinely rooting for someone to succeed. That doesn’t happen too often. Sports being the most obvious example. No matter how good of a story a team has, there will always be someone with visceral hate towards that team. And the internet has just allowed the voices to bubble to the surface. And well both Clinton and Trump have passionate supporters, I think most people are just rooting for it to be over.
I’m not sure what the internet chatter has been regarding Thile’s ascendence. I haven’t see much, maybe because the people who are likely to tweet awful things about someone aren’t the one’s listening to A Prairie Home Companion.
And I think he did great in his first show. He was warm and friendly, and he acknowledged that no, he was not Garrison. However, the show felt like he was inviting us into his living room for a concert with some of his good friends. I enjoyed the monologues and the comedic bits.
Surprisingly, the part I didn’t enjoy was Jack White, the reason I bought tickets in the first place. White was just fine musically, but his aura just seemed out of place in an otherwise really fun show.
I’m excited for Thile. It’s nice to send positive vibes to someone and hope that they create a good product that will make people feel something. I think he will.