New York – Tradition fell by the wayside on the Saturday edition of what was formerly known as “A Prairie Home Companion.”
The live broadcast from Town Hall in New York City started with host Chris Thile abandoning the traditional theme song, “Tishomingo Blues” (“I hear that old piano …”) with lyrics by Garrison Keillor.
Instead, Thile expressed his heartbreak over news that Keillor, the legendary broadcaster who hand-picked him to take his place last year, had been dropped from Minnesota Public Radio earlier this week after allegations of inappropriate behavior.
Thile waxed fondly on growing up listening to the program. “I would not be who I am today without ‘Prairie Home Companion,’ ” he said.
He told the international audience that the show would continue to be a “respite from weekly troubles,” and then launched into the bluegrass number “Radio Boogie,” and into the show.
Sexual harassment is an exploding conversation in America, and the rows and lobbies of any American theater are no different. After the news of Keillor’s alleged sexual misconduct broke, theatergoers were chattering about it, but more focused on what’s next for the show.
“I was a little apprehensive about how it was going to be handled,” said Hope Garland, 55, a teaching artist who lives in New York City. “I was hoping there was going to be some acknowledgment … I think it was really important for [Thile] to say something.”
The show’s multigenerational audience included longtime fans, who fondly recalled listening to the radio program with parents, children or spouses. The news about its creator was disappointing.
But Thile was a nearly unanimous silver lining, as applause erupted after nearly every act, from indie rock band Spoon to comedian Carmen Lynch (the only performer to really mention politics with a joke about her now-adoptive parents voting Trump). With his monologue, Thile stepped in as the guy to shepherd the show into a new era.
“I’m glad he mentioned it,” said Veronica Tjioe, 28, of New York. “I’m glad he called it ‘progress.’ ”
Camilla Somers, 28, added: “It feels like a different show. It doesn’t feel like it’s [Keillor’s] thing anymore.”
Throughout the show, Thile beamed with praise and attention for everyone who joined him onstage, including instrumentalist and vocalist Sarah Jarosz and the bass player in the backup band, who would probably ordinarily go unaddressed.
For some, bringing up Keillor’s dismissal as well as the ongoing news reports of women accusing powerful men of harassment and assault was not a departure for the show. “Prairie Home Companion” was designed to talk about issues in America.
“It bonded me to the show even more,” said Asha Olivia, 47, of Hoboken, N.J., a former media executive who has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. “It was even more indicative of how contemporary the show is. It’s not shy about addressing issues in society.”
The monologue was undoubtedly short and sweet, which some audience members appreciated.
“It was kind of understated,” said Hank Feder, 68, a retired teacher in New York. “He didn’t make a big deal about the whole thing. He said enough.”
Feder added: “I didn’t think it had to be blasted out there. Garrison Keillor feels the whole thing has been made into a big deal. I hope his account is true.”
The performance of Grammy winning Cecile McLorin Salvant almost seemed speckled with tropes from the current news cycle. Salvant, wearing metallic high-tops and pink cat-eye glasses, sang the song “The Gentleman is a Dope.” Before the song, she shared an anecdote about how one of her collaborators had become ill before a performance.
“Sometimes, the show can’t go on!” joked eternal optimist Thile.
But sometimes it can. Despite the week’s bad news, at Town Hall in New York on Saturday, it appeared that Thile and many in the audience had already moved on.