Relix 44: Chris Thile’s ‘Live From Here’
Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on Relix.com throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.
Radio at Breakneck Speed: Live From Here
During the fall of 2014, while on tour with Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile received a call from creator and host Garrison Keillor. “He left a voice mail and at first I figured he wanted me to be on the show. Occasionally he’d call me himself and ask, ‘Hey can you come down and be in the band this week?’ So I called him back and then out of the clear blue sky with absolutely no ramp-up he said, ‘I think I’m coming in for a landing as far as A Prairie Home Companion is concerned and I think you should be the next host.’”
While Thile was in the midst of an active touring and recording schedule with Punch Brothers, Meyer, solo gigs and other projects (Nickel Creek reunited in 2014), he reveals, “It was a fairly easy yes since I’ve been a fan of the show since birth. Quite literally my parents listened every week from the time I was born, which was shortly after the show went national. It was a huge part of my concept of audible art and entertainment. The importance of that time on Saturdays to commune anonymously with your fellow man in the company of good music and humor was impressed deeply onto my being. So the idea of being the next steward of that was really attractive.”
Now known as Live From Here, the program airs on over 550 stations and reaches in excess of 2.5 million listeners each week. After Keillor first contacted him, Thile put in a couple of stints as guest host and spent quite a bit of time considering how he might best serve the format. By the time he debuted on October 15, 2016, “It was clear that it would become more music centered. I remember getting off the phone that first time and making a gigantic list of the people I would ask to be on it. Then I started writing down ideas, the first of which was writing a song every week, which we’ve been able to do. Other ideas only just now came to fruition like, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to broadcast live from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival?’ I also had the idea of expanding the textural palette of the show to the four corners of the earth so that eventually it wouldn’t be a roots music haven but an oasis in which everything under the sun could be heard.”
While stories from Lake Wobegon are no longer part of the broadcast, Thile has ramped up the program’s approach to humor. “The idea to incorporate stand-up comedians was actually Garrison’s but it resonated with me having cut my teeth at Café Largo in Los Angeles, which is basically a music and comedy club. The owner and guru Mark Flanagan will say, ‘Hey, what if Nick Kroll opens for you?’ and it’s invariably a gas and that’s how I met Tom Papa who has been our comedy guru. He opened one of my solo shows and I was on the side of the stage laughing my ass off and deeply feeling the power of music and comedy.”
Thile’s collaborators also include his wife, actress Claire Coffee, who recently wrapped up a six season run on the television series Grimm (“This year she decided to give it a go for us and the nice thing is I don’t know anything about that world so there’s no potential for husband- wife creative head-butting”) as well as Joey Ryan, from The Milk Carton Kids. (“He’s a great musician and so funny—he was someone I tapped fairly early on as someone who could blend the show’s music and humor into a cohesive whole.”) Beyond this he credits the entire Live From Here team, noting, “Everyone is so pro, which was never on greater display then at Telluride Bluegrass Festival this year, when we were live. But it happens every week, enabling us to propel you though two hours at a breakneck speed—you won’t know where the time went.”
This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.