‘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

Thile

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.

36 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.

    • I’m in that “older” audience segment, but a long time fan of Chris Thile. I was delighted when he took over because it was really time for a change in the entire atmosphere of the show. I have listened regularly now, instead of as a filler for so long before. Chris has made Live From Here destination radio for the Public Radio fan with widely varied tastes. Love this show now!

  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.

  12. Chris will never be a garrison Keillor. That tinny voice just doesn’t have those bass tones. The mandolin doesn’t make the man. The mere association with Nickelcreek won’t help either. Soun effects man Newman was part of the experience, I wish him well. Dworsky worked with and for keillor forever and kept things moving. We thank you sir. We’ll never see the DiGionardo sisters or Heather Massey who brought gold to the stage. On the spot skits by the man are gone.

  13. I have been a fan of PHC for years because of the comedy and the music. I never thought Garrison’s voice was that great but always enjoyed the beautiful, melodic and fun song choices. Until Chris took over, my FAVORITE way to spend early Saturday evening or Sunday morning (repeat show in Atlanta) working on some sort of home project (because everyone leaves me alone when i’m working) listening to NPR. For me the comedy was always fun and still is, but for me and my small circle of friends, the music selections (NOT the musicians skills) have become unlistenable. I have tried my best to enjoy Chris and his music but am many times so disgusted by the tuneless song choices that I have been embarrassed to encourage my wife to continue listening with me. By the way I am 61 year fan of music of all kinds (rock,classical, americana, little bit of rap, bluegrass). I am frustrated that the show I am trying to listen to now is an offspring of the show that introduced me to Chet Atkins years ago.

  14. I was curious how the new show is playing with many public radio stations across the nation that subscribed to APHC. I am really disappointed how GK was dismissed by MPR. He made that network and was a boon to many stations across the nation.

    I am listening less now. The comedy with all the old players gone is not too good.

  15. Chris’s woozy dreamy never-ending “oohing” without follow-able melody lines makes me change the station. Mandolin with oohing will not attract listeners.
    The humor has weakened and seems downplayed in this format.. The show needs more diverse humor talent. It is as important as the musical guests, or more important.
    The connection to the Midwest is slipping or being disgarded purposefully, it seems.
    I feel somewhat betrayed in the name change, as we now have a show from nowhere and a host from out of town that seems to be trying to move it to NY.

  16. Never a fan of the entire PHC experience, a few bits caught myself or bounced to me by friends and family meant Saturday Night my beagles always had something soothing and occasionally rousing from the stellar voice talents. I’m 60, forever a huge The Firesign Theatre, got to see them live when they reunited, also lived in Los Angeles in the mid through early 90’s and one of the stations there used to play tapes of their old live radio shows in the wee small hours of the morning. The New Show can’t keep my beagles awake, even at higher volumes than GK’s. I was never the target audience, liberal arts college undergrad, Ivy League Law School, after teaching and coaching at an inner city prep school, former street musician in Boston & Cambridge, MA, over two decades in Land & Water Conservation, over 45 years of Public Radio Memberships. How do you get more milktoast, and by milktoast I do kinda mean “white””cisgender””boy’’s bathroom chock full o’ urinals” than “Powdermilk (Freakin) Biscuits!” I swear to Our Infinitely Hued, Continously Simultaneously All- & Non-Gendered Great Spirit, get any whiter and “Live From Here” will be translucent! Although I’m sure that for now, that makes most of the rapidily and increasingly receding demographic majority feel comforted and safe, in a couple of decades you better found a new crown jewel for Saturday night primetime. Find something, anything, the emerging demographic plurality can perhaps share or relate to beyond the stuff that they heard coming from the overseers’ house. Holy crap, seriously, how’s a guy with such promising initials, C.T., leading an audience of any kind a people, sound less soulful than The Beatles on “Come Together?!” Aerosmith added more soul? Chris & the House Band leached all the color outta it. Reminded me of sing-a-long at the Lighthouse Inn in Dennisport! I will direct my contributions to other programming, which is not a change, it is a missed opportunity. Oh, and I have two brown 4th generation Mainer teenage daughters, both musical omnivores, performers, who will NEVER listen “Live from Here.” Kurt Cobain tribute itself almost got me, but I cannot listen to this dude introducing Nina Simone. If I wanna hear Nina she’s right here, Feeling Good, on my phone, on my discs, in my iPods, in my daughter’s Spotify, on my mon’s original “I Put A Spell On You LP”, in my folks apartment in S.F. when it was released in 1965.

  17. I knew, before it even began, that this effort was doomed. How do you follow Garrison Keillor? What do you do with such an iconic format? PHC was gone the moment GK did his last show. And, honestly, it was time. He was fading, resorting to fart jokes and losing the charisma and charm which made the show required listening for me since the early 80s when I discovered it.
    The accusations of impropriety did not surprise me. I saw Keillor in concert 3 years ago, and noticed his slightly creepy attention to Heather Malone and Heather Massey. What he really did to get booted we may never know. I would suspect it’s less than what’s been implied.
    On to CT. I’ve enjoyed his mandolin skills for many years. But Chris falls flat as a host, and the show itself falls flat, feeling more like an amateur talent show than a professional production. As another commented, I too change stations the minute I hear Tom Poppa. His gig is stupid and annoying. Is this pathetic ‘talent’ the best Chris could muster? I am obviously not the target audience, despite listening to everything from blues to speed metal to Russian dance music and a whole lot of eclectic stuff in between. Sadly, each show likely has something worthwhile, but my time is too valuable to waste 2 hours hoping to catch it.
    So, not only is the timeless treasure of PHC gone, but nothing, apparently, has yet arrived to fill that gaping hole.

  18. I’m over, over, over mandolin ballad songs sung in high stringy voices. Almost never listen to the whole show—seems like everything devolves back to mandolin ballads. What IS the show’s mission? At least with APHC it was clear. I’d love a much more robust mixture of music from the amazingly wide diversity’s of cultures we have. Ooops, what’s that I hear? Another high stringy voice, singing a ballad. With mandolin.

  19. I wish PHC had just ended and gone off the air when Garrison Keillor retired, rather than trying to find a new host for it. It was a wonderful program for many years, but it was truly Keillor’s program and it had run its course, and trying to get a new host feels like it was never likely to succeed. I think it would’ve been much better to just let Keillor and PHC retire gracefully together, and then find some other new, unrelated show to take it’s place. That way everyone is starting fresh with a different program, judging it on its own merits, without the burden of expectations and preferences of longtime PHC listeners. For myself, I haven’t found Live From Here that enjoyable, and mostly don’t listen or turn it off when it comes on – but I actually feel like I might have liked it better, or been more open to it, if it hadn’t started out as an attempt to continue PHC. At any rate – I have no idea if Live From Here will make it long-term. It sounds like perhaps it’s finding some traction with younger audiences, but regardless, I just wish it had started originally as a new show.

    • “Actors Tim Russell and Fred Newman and keyboardist/music director Richard Dworsky are leaving the show…”
      It will be interesting to see where these three end up. Obviously they know enough to not sacrifice their talents by remaining on the sinking ship of Live From Here.
      When Keillor announced Chris Thile as his replacement I could not envision that being successful, and I was not wrong.

  20. I think the show is evolving. I like the music EXCEPT when Chris sings! So much talent except for his voice. I like the comedy and the musical guests, but since I’m from Colorado, I rather listen to E Town.

  21. I was a longtime fan of APHC, and have tried hard to like the new show on it’s own merits. I never expected Chris to be able to carry the Midwest theme, and was open to something new and interesting. Thus far, I’ve been disappointed. There seems to be no consistency from week to week, but rather a hodgepodge of bland, unfunny ‘comedy’ along with random musical acts of varying quality. Being a ‘Deadhead’, I DO like mandolin and very much enjoy that bluegrassy aspect of the new show. But overall, the sense is that the show can’t decide what it wants to be. There is no momentum, just the predictably tired Tom Poppa and Dave Hill routines and the hint of apprehension in Thile’s voice which suggests he too suspects this may not be working well. While Keillor almost never had a lame show, Thile rarely has one that fires on all cylinders, much less leaves me feeling glad I listened and still thinking about it hours later- something that was common after APHC.
    I guess the summation would be that it seems Chris has been thrust into something larger than his comfort zone, which sadly ends up minimizing his incredible musical talents. He deserves better from the producers of this hot mess, and hopefully they get it together soon, else this becomes a low point in his otherwise illustrious career.

  22. NPR (and MPR) really wants to increase its listenership among younger people, I get that. In “Live From Here” they have managed to drive off many of the older people who are its most reliable donors. LFH is mostly music the likes of which I have never heard and do not now appreciate–believe me, I have tried to enjoy LFH. Surely there is a better replacement for PHC than LFH.

  23. Chris Thile is possibly the worst replacement possible for Garrison imaginable. He can’t act his way out of a paper bag, let alone do comedy. He has fired the remaining PHC staff, and turned the show into a boring procession of his bland , squeaky vocals. OK, Keillor had his issues, but WTF were they thinking? Trying to attract a younger audience? This ain’t gonna do it. I hope this show dies a quick death.

      • It’s telling that they are re-running quite a few old shows already, maybe due to lack of any good new material? I have tried hard to like the new format and people but it’s just too weird and boring. Thile is obviously struggling, his only ace being the ability to play mandolin very well. Everything about the show feels forced, there is no flow, no quality production, and often the sense that nobody knows what’s supposed to happen next. There may be a younger studio audience for it, but is there a radio audience?
        PHC rarely had a lame show, and most weeks I would listen to it twice, as our local NPR station broadcast it on both Saturday and Sunday. I can’t sit through more than a few minutes of LFH.
        For Thile to give up Fred and Richard (and Tim And Sue) was incredibly shortsighted. Keillor was the ring master, but the diverse talent made the show happen, and now all that is gone. Live from Here is not even just mediocre, I have to turn it off because it becomes irritating.
        PHC was getting tired in some ways, but even at its worst was far superior to what has helplessly tried to replace it. Very sad.

        • The show is painful much of the time due to Thile’s awkward and insincere fawning over guests on top of his unpleasant singing voice. I was fortunate to catch the show guest-hosted by Jon Bastiste, and the contrast was almost shocking. Bastiste has a natural rapport and connection with other musicians, the audience and exudes such joy. That show was memorable, if felt like a rare gift. Unfortunately, most weeks I turn LFH off unless there is guest that I am particularly interested in hearing, but even then my tolerance for Thile grows thin.

  24. Live From Here, otherwise known as Dead to Me, suffers from Chris Thile’s unpleasant singing voice, though he is certainly a talented instrumentalist, and his over the top sucking up and praising to excess every guest. The comedy writing is poor at best, and despite numerous attempts to listen to the show, I always turn it off well before the end.

  25. Wow, I have never seen such a compilation of sour puss coments. Folks, if you don’t like the Live from here format, then don’t listen to it! I for one look forward to every new installment. It is a very rare place where you can listen to AND see live performances of this planets most skilled musicians, spanning an extremely wide range of music. Keep these fantastic shows coming Chris Thile & co! And to the sour pusses, if you think you can do better, then please do!

    • Ha! It does seem that way huh? But I’d guess you probably didn’t listen to PHC for several decades (to the point where it became a part of your life) and come to appreciate a truly diverse and quality live broadcast. That’s the basis for a lot of these comments. And, after a few tries, I DON’T listen to it now. But I also don’t see LFH as anything fantastic. I don’t need to think I can do better, that’s just an empty argument on your part. If you get a lousy haircut, do you need to think you can do better to know that you can GET something better? The point is- SOMEONE can definitely do a whole lot better, but we’re still waiting for that to happen. For now, I’ll stream Undercurrents, which actually does have ‘skilled musicians spanning an extremely wide range of music’, albeit not live for the most part.

      • PHC is gone but not forgotten., there are plenty of the old shows and bits of it to be seen and listened to online. What I am pointing out here us that there is no point in comparing these 2 shows. Again, if you dont like LFH, then dont listen to it, don’t criticise it and just move on. I myself am a performing musician and do my best to perform to audiences around the globe, so your empty argument line does not hold water with me and as well as millions of other performers around the world doing their best and striving to do better. A show like LFH may not be everyones cup of tea, especially die hard PHC fans, but it is a rare opportunity for the masses to have the chance to see some of the most skilled musicians of our time.

        • Definitely no comparison, and that’s fine. I don’t think anything should try to be PHC- it would never measure up. However, as I’ve commented here previously, I don’t think LFH is going to last on it’s own merits, either. Some of their guests are good, and interesting, and I love new music and live music. But the show as a whole sucks, and is grating, and sadly that negates the bright spots (for me anyway, and apparently others). I also don’t see the show as some rare opportunity. There’s E Town and Mountain Stage, both of which are enjoyable and professional productions. And damn near everything is on youtube now.
          If stating the obvious is being a sourpuss, then I guess the shoe fits me. But that 2 hours was something I looked forward to every week, and it’s now empty, which is disappointing. Maybe if I was a struggling musician trying to get stage time I’d see it differently, but I’m the audience seeking entertainment, and an audience has to be earned.

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