Chris Thile joyfully launches into second season of 'Prairie Home'

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'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
Chris Thile hosts the season opener of 'A Prairie Home Companion' (Nate Ryan | MPR)

In the first few minutes of Saturday's live broadcast of the season opener of A Prairie Home Companion, host Chris Thile had a question for the audience: "What do these three iconic songs have in common?" he teased.

At that point, Thile and the rest of the Prairie Home band — Rich Dworsky (piano and music director), Brittany Haas (fiddle), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Paul Kowert (bass), Ted Poor (drums) and Emily King (vocals) — launched into a medley of covers comprising Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Prince's "I Wanna Be Your Lover" and Britney Spears' "Oops!... I Did It Again."

The answer? All three songs are the first tracks on their respective artists' second albums. It was the perfect way to mark the beginning of Thile's second season "as not Garrison Keillor."

"We're excited to be back," an ebullient Thile said to a live audience whose enthusiasm clearly matched his. Moments earlier, when Thile and company took the stage at a sold-out Palace Theatre in St. Paul, the roar of the audience nearly masked the Brandenburg Concerto in American Public Media's opening show logo as well as Prairie Home's signature opening number, "Tishomingo Blues." It's a good sign when the show begins with thunderous applause.

"It seems like an eternity since we last met," Thile said, adding with a wry smile, "and by eternity, I mean 19 reruns of a 15-show season."

Thile promised those listening in the Palace and on the air that Prairie Home has "26 shiny new shows lined up for you," and the season opener was certainly a shimmering jewel.

Music on the Thile-led program is always strong, given Thile's deep taste, knowledge and musical skill. Augmenting the incredible talent of the house band on the season opener were musical guests Julien Baker and Chris Stapleton, both Nashville-based artists. Emerging artist Baker, originally from Memphis, captivated the audience with her powerful, haunting vocals accompanied by Telecaster lines captured on loops and enhanced by live keyboard and a backing violinist.

Stapleton, meanwhile, received such applause from the crowd that it seemed many in attendance may also have been holding tickets for Stapleton's show just down the street at the Xcel Energy Center later that night. Although he had another show just hours away, Stapleton left nothing on the Palace Theatre stage, playing all-out on solo acoustic versions of his songs, "Without Your Love," "Either Way" and "Broken Halos." During the chorus of "Either Way," Stapleton's doleful voice boomed, resounding from the highest reaches of the Edwardian-era Palace Theatre.

Chris Stapleton on APHC
Chris Stapleton performs on A Prairie Home Companion season opener. (Nate Ryan | MPR)

The sketches and comedy were also highlights. Actors Tim Russell and Serena Brook, along with sound-effects supervisor Fred Newman, delighted with their well-drawn characters and vocal dexterity. A parody of a sports broadcast, predicated on an imagined pinball tournament, worked very well, with a twist into a spoof underwriting spot for slippers, "like blankets for your feet." Also very strong was another underwriting spoof, this time for a "Breathy Acoustic Covers" album reminiscent of music-compilation albums sold on late-night TV commercials. And during the music-birthdays segment, Brook delivered an earnest and praiseworthy homage to Julie Andrews, performing a spot-on rendition of "I Could Have Danced All Night" that sounded just like Andrews herself — an audio illusion perfectly suited to radio.

Guest comedian Laurie Kilmartin turned in a very funny and edgy set based heavily in her experience as a single mother, dismantling by comedic means any sentimental notions of parenthood. "My son said, 'Mom, you should have had another baby'," she said at one point in her set. "I told him, 'Son, I didn't even want to have you. Now happy birthday'."

A new segment on the program, "Out In America," features comedian Tom Papa as Prairie Home's traveling comedian correspondent. During this inaugural installment, Papa phoned in from Newark, N.J., where he shared some purported misadventures experienced while attempting to pick up his wife at the airport. The resulting story was a blend of Andy Rooney and Larry David, mixing bizarre happenstance, unexpected juxtaposition and funny introspection.

During the live-song-request segment of the program, Thile and friends chose to perform a cover of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" to honor the late singer-songwriter, encouraging the audience to sing along. "Every song he ever wrote is this good," Thile enthused.

Coming at the end of what Thile described as a "tough, tough week," the show avoided mention of the week's particularly difficult headlines, notably the Las Vegas shooting, but Thile reasserted Prairie Home's role as an oasis of entertainment, providing a place for listeners to meet every weekend.

And just like the songs referenced at the beginning of the program, this first track of Thile's second "album" of A Prairie Home Companion was a big hit.

Listen to the rebroadcast of A Prairie Home Companion on Sunday at 10 p.m. on The Current and on Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Radio Heartland.

Resources


A Prairie Home Companion

Julien Baker (Bandcamp)

Chris Stapleton

27 Photos

  • A Prairie Home Companion Season opener
    The season opener for A Prairie Home Companion was held at the Palace Theatre in downtown St. Paul. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • A Prairie Home Companion Season opener
    Chris Thile hosts the season opener of 'A Prairie Home Companion' (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Chris Thile hosts 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    The season opener of 'A Prairie Home Companion' took place at the Palace Theatre in downtown St. Paul, just a couple blocks from the Fitzgerald Theater. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Musical guest Chris Stapleton and host Chris Thile on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Musical guest Chris Stapleton on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Actors Serena Brook and Tim Russell on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Host Chris Thile and actor Serena Brook on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    'A Prairie Home Companion' pianist and music director Rich Dworsky at the show's season opener at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul. The date of the program also happened to be Dworsky's birthday, which was honored during the music birthdays segment of the show as host Chris Thile led the band in a performance of Dworsky's original composition, 'Stride by Stride.' (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Chris Thile performs on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Drummer Ted Poor and bassist Paul Kowert perform on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Comedian Laurie Kilmartin performs on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Chris Thile performs on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Host Chris Thile on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Fiddler Brittany Haas performs on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Host Chris Thile on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Musical guest Julien Baker performs on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Chris Thile hosts 'A Prairie Home Companion' (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Host Chris Thile takes a seat during the 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Musical guest Chris Stapleton talks with 'A Prairie Home Companion' host Chris Thile during the show's season opener. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Musical guest Chris Stapleton performs on 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener was held at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul, before a sellout audience. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Host Chris Thile of 'A Prairie Home Companion' (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Host Chris Thile laughs at a sketch during 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    The cast and musicians take a bow at the conclusion of 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener
    Host Chris Thile signs off from the Palace Theatre at the conclusion of 'A Prairie Home Companion' season opener (Nate Ryan | MPR)