‘Live from Here’ shakes up cast ahead of upcoming season

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Public radio’s Live from Here is taking another step away from its roots as a Garrison Keillor production, with several longtime musicians and actors leaving as the show prepares for its upcoming season.

Actors Tim Russell and Fred Newman and keyboardist/music director Richard Dworsky are leaving the show, according to a Tuesday press release.

“I stand in awe and will be forever grateful to these extraordinary gentlemen,” said host Chris Thile in the release. “Their artistry, individually and collectively, is an essential, immortal part of America’s sonic landscape. As we stay curious about what’s next, we’re mindful of and thankful for all the brilliant people that have helped make this show what it is today.”

Bridget Bennett


The changes aim to provide “an even better experience for live and radio listeners to Live from Here,” according to the release. The show’s audience of 25- to 34-year-olds was 22 percent higher in an average of spring and fall 2017 audience data compared to fall 2016 data, according to American Public Media, which produces the show.

Live from Here’s new musical director will be Mike Elizondo, a musician and producer who collaborated for 11 years with hip-hop producer Dr. Dre and co-wrote Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady.”

New actors on the show will be comedians Mike Yard, a former contributor to Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore; Greg Hess, founding member of the improv groups Cook County Social Club and Improv Shakespeare; and Holly Laurent, an alumna of Chicago’s Second City mainstage.

Serena Brook, who started acting on the show two years ago, will take over as announcer and will continue acting.

“I’m beyond excited about the team we have this year,” Thile said. “This show is a joy to make and I feel like that joy gets a little more infectious every week. The new mix of talent further energizes our celebration of hearable beauty and hilarity. We can’t wait to get in front of your ears this fall.”

The new season of Live from Here begins with a live show Oct. 5, to be broadcast the following weekend.

Dworsky will perform with Garrison Keillor in Minneapolis at a sold-out live show in November, according to the Star Tribune. Keillor retired as host of APHC in 2016. American Public Media, which produced APHC and produces its successor, cut ties with Keillor last year after allegations of “inappropriate behavior” by the host.

Keillor is also speaking next month in Vermont. A print ad for the event featured the logos of Mountain Lake PBS and North Country Public Radio, which also appeared on an online event page.

Update: The station logos that appeared on the online ad for Keillor’s appearance in Vermont have been removed by request of the stations.

An ad in the Burlington, Vt., paper Seven Days promoting the Keillor appearance.

“We were shocked to see our logo on that page,” said Jackie Sauter, director of broadcast and digital content at NCPR. “We had not agreed to be a partner or promote that event in any way.”

“Given Mr. Keillor’s problematic relationship with public media recently, we would have never, in any case, agreed to sign on to promote that event or be affiliated with that event,” she said.

She added that NCPR policy prevents the station from sponsoring “any event that’s a benefit for any other organization, no matter how worthy the cause.”

Sauter said the logo appeared on the web page and in a print advertisement due to a “misunderstanding” with the Burlington Book Festival. Keillor’s appearance is a benefit for the festival, which is promoting it. NCPR signed up to sponsor the festival before Keillor’s appearance was announced, Sauter said. “We would not have signed on as media sponsor if he had been listed,” she said.

Mountain Lake PBS has been a media sponsor for “several years” for the festival, according to CEO Bill McColgan. “However, we did not have an agreement to promote this particular fundraising event featuring Mr. Keillor, and we have asked organizers to remove our logo from the event,” McColgan said.

This post has also been updated to include details about Live from Here’s audience growth.

5 thoughts on “‘Live from Here’ shakes up cast ahead of upcoming season

  1. I agree with Jerry Ward (previous comment) last nights show really missing something. Before their were threads of PHC. No longer. Miss it. However at times, Chris and Co. are great. Last night, not so much. Erwin Schaub

  2. First show of the season was a major disappointment. I am afraid that we at the end of something great. Have listened to PHC for many years but after last weeks show no more. My husband and I have tried to like the new format but seems like that is not possible. So good night and good luck. 😢

  3. So disappointed with the change. Chris Thile, an incredibly gifted musician, is just as incredibly awkward as a host and in his rapport with the live and radio audience. There is no connection with Madison Cunningham, in fact, their musical collaboration on stage make both of them sound like two non-musician kids fooling around after a few beers. The show needs the balance of relaxed actors who are comfortable with the live audience and experienced in communicating out over the airwaves. Watching the live broadcast of this current version is just painful.

  4. Not disappointed at all, relieved really. For two seasons the (self-admitted) thin-voiced Thile has struggled to have a show that wasn’t left-over Keillor. I loved Keillor’s show, was saddened when he retired, and appalled when he was railroaded off NPR and MPR. That he left without a fight seems emblematic of the left-progressive guys who are charged with harassment cases we never know the specifics of.

    Alas, he’s gone, so is PHC, and it’s time for the new.

    Just watched the show (video) and find it refreshing. Not completely, of course, but Thile isn’t trying to carry the whole thing the way Keillor did (and did it so well). Serena Brook could be a keeper, if for no other reason than that she’s taking some of the load from Thile, but she’s got a good voice.

    Less mandolin? Terrific! Less of whatever genre the majority of the music was for the last two seasons? The change will actually keep me listening, since I didn’t bother listening to the consistent re-runs of old shows they seemed to dish out so regularly. Even the new set looked good. Maybe too many people on stage as background, but it is a radio show after all.

    So 1½ thumbs up for the new version.

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