Take 5 with Chris Thile
LENOX — "A Prairie Home Companion" and its successor, "Live from Here," have long been tied to the Midwest. But come September, Chris Thile will be hosting the variety show in New York City instead of St. Paul, Minn. Before that switch, Thile, comedian Tig Notaro, Ben Folds and I'm With Her will stop at Tanglewood on Saturday, June 15, as part of the program's summer tour. The show will broadcast live from the Koussevitzky Music Shed beginning at 5:45 p.m. In advance of the event, Thile answered five questions by phone. The interview has been edited for length
Q. This edition of "Live from Here" will feature Tig Notaro, Ben Folds and I'm With Her. For you, what makes each of these acts distinctive?
A. For starters, I think Tig Notaro is one of the most creative comedians in the world. She was on the show my first season as host, and I was agog. I think she's brilliant. ... [There's ] a routine she did on late-night once where she was basically just making a chair squeak against the floor — it's worth a look. ... Ben Folds is a total hero of mine. I've been obsessed since I was in college, if not before. I remember when that second Ben Folds Five record ["Whatever and Ever Amen"] came out and putting on that first song, "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces" ... just sort of, oh, this is a real thing that I'm going to need to deal with now as an aspiring evolving musician. He's continued to do it. He's just continuing to do extraordinary work. He was on the show last year. ... As far as I'm With Her, where do I even start? They're one of the best bands in the world, and I'm just the luckiest man in the world [because] I feel like I'm good friends with all three [Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O'Donovan] of them. But I actually mean that; that's not hyperbole. I really feel like they're one of the best bands in the world.
Q. After this summer's touring, you will be settling into the show's new home at The Town Hall in New York City. Why the change?
A. It's been a pretty steady diet of change for us since I became the host of this show, and the show keeps becoming more and more like itself. I love New York. I live in New York. I think New York is, maybe in certain ways, America's window to the world and the world's window to America. I love the Twin Cities, as well, but this is where I live. There's just so much going on here all the time. I feel like the world journeys through New York, and I'm excited to hear what that does to our radio show.
Q. What were your concerns, if any, about making the switch?
A. There are myriad concerns attached to any amount of change, as I'm sure you've experienced in your own life and any of us experience as we go through our lives, wondering if the decisions that we make are correct. But I suppose I'm not really worried about it. There's a sound that I hear in my head, and I'm so fortunate to have the collaborators that I have who also have sounds in their head and as long as we hear those sounds in our head, the show's going to be OK. Of course, the work of getting those sounds that we hear in our heads onto the airwaves is real and difficult and at times stressful work, but it's also beloved, and it's limitless edifying. I think that these changes will introduce new obstacles, and then also take obstacles away. That sense really curtails any worry that I have surrounding the transition.
Q. Back to the summer. At Tanglewood last year, you got bit on the eyelid by a mosquito.
A. That's right!
Q. Are bug bites a big problem for musicians during these outdoor performances during the summertime? You don't really have a free hand for swatting them away.
A. That's true. I had not thought about that since it happened. I think it's a fact of outdoor performance, and you just sort of accept it. There might be wind through the microphone. There might be — a fire engine might careen by. As we've had before outdoors there, you might have a lowing peacock. Just any number of things, all of which are just kind of delightful in their own way. Certainly a mosquito bite is not that delightful except that it made for [a funny opening].
Q. What would your ideal 24 hours in the Berkshires involve?
A. I've got to say being at Tanglewood is one of my very favorite things, ... [and] just to make sure I'm outside as much as possible. I want to eat a tomato while I'm there. I want something to be grilled. I want to eat outside. I want to listen to music outside or make it, and I want to go on a hike. And I want to be up late with some sort of regal snifter of something, like brandy or old whiskey — something old. I want to drink something old while I'm up there, I think is what I'm trying to say. It might be an old wine. It might be an old brandy. And I want that to happen in the neighborhood of hardwood furniture and a leather chair. I don't have to be on either, but I want to see them while I'm having my old beverage after a day of listening to and/or making music outside and walking around.
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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