‘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.

14 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.

    • Very interesting observations, sir. There was really no way for this to happen entirely gracefully even without the accusations against Garrison. I have long thought that APM wanted a cleaner break them not was likely to get with APHC still the brand, and the stated misbehavior, which seemed so trivial compared to what we see going on around us, provided an opportunity to speed up the change. Wish everyone involved had handled things better and hate to hearvGarrison feeling bitter (even,if partly justified) over the staff changes. He picked Chris, he made a great choice, but Chris could never have his show with the same staffing. Just saw Garrison, Tim, Heather, and Christine in NYC. They were okay but Garrison should let his guests shine on their own as he used to do, not force the whole show into APHC reboot. He’s still our Mark Twain but when he has talented guests he shouldn’t completely dominate the show as he did in NY.

  5. Chris Thile will be gone soon enough. Hand picked by Keillor, his music is far from what the target “18 to 27” audience wants and his attempts to “youth it up” are downright embarrassing to listen to.

    Enjoy it while it lasts, Chris, you won’t be around much longer. Too bad there isn’t some new kind of around where people like you could have a place without worrying about “target audiences’ and ratings.

    Used to be we had Public Radio for that.

  6. Hmm out west I like the new show, though I agree with many of the above comments. The music is terrific, it has been since starting up. Certain regular musicians, Sarah Jaroz, Gaby Moreno and Thile himself and others are terrific and the show is bringing in some great acts. I like Tom Poppa too. Generally though, the comedy skits fall flat, really just lame. Garrison cast skits were often very funny and the departure of the last of them is a shame.

  7. I’m 69, not in any target group. But I for one love ” Live from Here” I think the music is way way more diverse and we are getting introduced to the likes of a whole new generation of great talent. Gabi Moreno on the season opener was off the charts amazing. Her talent alone is worth tuning into, but add in the great new acts wow! All you critics try to treat others the way you would like to be treated!

  8. I’m with you, Chris! I’m not really a fan of the comedy skits, but the music and the vibe of Live from Here is fantastic and way more appealing to me than PHC. I hated PHC when I was younger but started listening in my late 40s and grew to enjoy it. Ultimately, though, the folksiness started to feel like fauxiness and I just couldn’t hear the Buttermilk Biscuit song one more time. Chris Thile is a very hosty host and an extraordinarily talented musician and I am loving how Live from Here respects and includes artists from a wide range of styles, cultures, and ethnicities. In that sense it’s really a visionary program and I hope it succeeds.

  9. Mixed feelings about all this. For the last few years of its run, i did feel like PHC had run its course. For the first ___ years (choose a number between 10–30 or so), the Lake Woebegon skits carried the program and harkened to earlier raconteurs evoking wise, droll, folksy Americana. Chatterbox Cafe, Monback Movers, Guys Shoes…classic stuff.

    For me, as the years went on, the stories became a little less insightful, and a little more staid. At the same time, the musical offerings too often were insipid, white-bread mush. I still listened, but the whole thing just seemed tired.

    So, it’s fine with me that the new gang is creating something different, while still working within the general architecture of a radio variety program. It’s probably best to forge a new course and not try to retain any particular element of Keillor’s creation.

    The music is, generally, an order of magnitude better, the inconsistent comedy skits still need some work, and I miss the sound effects and the skilled story-telling segments, though Tom Poppa is putting in a strong effort, despite his overuse of the “Have you ever…” construct. And, yeah, i actually liked the Powdermill Bisquit song. Best of luck to the new crew.

    All that said, and in no way to excuse sexual harassment, i find it more than a bit disconcerting that the powers that be seem to feel the need to virtually erase the life’s work of someone who may have screwed up with something less than homicide or terrorism (the details of which we still don’t know). Despite his alleged failings, i’m glad to see that Keillor’s work is finding its way back into public view.

  10. I for one will miss the brilliant performances of Richard Dworsky. I was continually amazed at his grasp of so many music genres; how he blended stlyes and moved so effortlessly from one to another left me smiling, shaking my head and wanting more!
    And how Tom Poppa can continue to get air time is another kind of head shaker! Really? A guy that is just a one trick pony delivering his punchline over and over (“Have you ever”) for the duration of his monologue. I have listened to the show many times only to decide to change the radio station when Tom’s voice starts to come out of the speakers. Occasionally I return before the program but usually I have other, more interesting choices and don’t tune in again until the next week.
    The program and new format does not make me eager for the next episode, rather I go several weeks before tuning in with hopes that Tom is gone. Now that Richard is gone, there is almost no incentive to listen. Sorry Chris, you are such a gifted musician but your choice of guests remain a mysterey to me.

  11. PBS should be paying us to listen. OK, it isn’t PHC nor should it be. It’s proof a collection of talented musicians needs…a bandleader, for a start. Advice to Chris: stfu. You are painful to listen to, and that’s before your one-trick pony mandolin. You write a song a week? Most musicians do. Try writing a good song now and then. Give the birthday song snippets a rest. It is disrespectful on so many levels. And comedy should be…funny. The skits are pointless and make SNL after WU look good. Otherwise, keep up the good work.

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