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Chris Thile Explores New Frontiers in Bluegrass and Radio

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Brantley Gutierrez
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Whether recording new music with his band the Punch Brothers, playing it live for audiences, or stepping into the shoes of Garrison Keillor as the new host of A Prairie Home Companion ​this fall, its an exciting time to be mandolinist Chris Thile.

For the past 10 years, his progressive bluegrass or "prog-grass" band has been redefining the genre. This has happened, in part, because of the band's awareness that recording an album calls for a different sound than performing live.

"[While recording an album] I think about the person who ends up with that record, alone in a room or ear buds on a municipal bus," Thile explains. "[I think about] wherever it is that they happen to be looking to escape from the sound of the world."

Recorded music has to be more "composed fantasy,"  he says, because he can't rely on spontaneous ideas making sense to a listener six months later in their home.

On the contrary, playing live allows for more leeway for the instrumental tangent, he notes, as both the musicians and the audience are participating in the moment. "[In the concert hall] people are there with you. They have all the context they need to go with you on one of those adventures."

Hosting A Prairie Home Companion, will be another adventure for Thile, and he likens the existing show to a springboard. "The template that Garrison created speaks to my soul. It's something I feel very, very comfortable creating from."

He wants to carry on the existing tradition of bringing together music, comedy, spoken word, story-telling. "I believe in the righteousness of people coming together to share good things. I've felt very lucky having Prairie Home Companion on Saturday evenings...the human impetus to make a beautiful thing and share it with someone else is something that we should celebrate for ever and ever and ever."

Punch Brothers returns to Milwaukee May 12 for a performance at the Pabst Theatre.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.