"A Prairie Home Companion," original flavor, had seemed to go out on a high note. After turbulence in the 1990s, its singular host, Garrison Keillor, had settled into a second coming as one of Minnesota's unofficial ambassadors. As he endeavored to retire in 2016, for real this time, he was trailed by a parade of goodbyes, including a multipage spread in this newspaper. But the live radio show he'd started would go on — reimagined, yet respectful of its roots — under a hand-picked successor, musical prodigy Chris Thile.
Then came Keillor's entanglement with the MeToo moment; the severing of his ties with the show's distributor, American Public Media; and a re-christening of the Thile version of "PHC" to "Live From Here." (Then, for practical purposes to Minnesotans, to "Live From There" after the home stage was moved from St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater to New York's Town Hall.)
It's live no more. On Tuesday, APM canceled the show amid the limits on assembly and other fallouts of the pandemic. Even if one day there's a revival, the show's detachment from its ancestry is now complete.
Truth be told, the original "PHC" was a very popular niche product. Its primary audience was composed of the type of people who could appreciate music presented with a twang but possessing grace. Who liked corny humor ground with existential grit. Who could drop their sophisticated bearings for moments of childlike wonder. And, in the later years, who were of the Democratic or at least good-natured Republican persuasion.
"Live from Here" was something different. Thile was not sonorous and mesmerizing like Keillor but high-pitched and excitable. The music was more variable and higher in profile, geared toward a younger audience. Which had yet to fully arrive; the show managed 2.6 million weekly listeners vs. Keillor's 4 million. But perhaps recovering that share was aspirational to begin with in an era of music on demand in both audio and video formats, and one of 800,000 active podcasts.
Still, it felt good to be part of a collective gathering-'round-the-radio at 5 p.m. on Saturdays for an old-fashioned variety show or even a newfangled one. It feels good to hope now for such a thing again. Such is nostalgia.
But all things end — sometimes in diminishing echoes, to remind us that their given moment has really gone for good.