Multi-talented artist and host of MPR's 'Live From Here' Thile coming to CSB

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December 6, 2019

By Mike Killeen

Chris holding instrument

Talented musicians, actors and performers grace the Escher Auditorium stage nearly every week.

But you might be hard-pressed to find a more accomplished and award-winning artist than Chris Thile, who will perform as a solo artist at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, at the Benedicta Arts Center, College of Saint Benedict. Thile’s performance is part of the Fine Arts Series at CSB and Saint John’s University.

“It was a real coup for us to get Chris Thile on our season,” said Tanya Gertz, executive director of the Fine Arts Series, of the mandolin virtuoso, composer and vocalist. “We worked for a long time to make this happen and are delighted to bring him to our community.”

Thile’s performing résumé backs that up.

Most probably recognize Thile as host of “Live From Here,” the National Public Radio show that morphed from Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Thile’s first show as host after Keillor departed his fictional Lake Wobegon was on Oct. 15, 2016, at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. In late December 2017, Thile announced that the show would be known as “Live from Here.” The show has since moved full-time to New York City for the 2019-20 season.

Calling Thile just a radio host would short-change him significantly.

His first band stint was with Nickel Creek. The three members of Nickel Creek met in 1989 at a California restaurant that their parents frequented to listen to weekly bluegrass shows (Thile was 8 years old at the time).

The group’s first album, “Little Cowpoke,” was released in 1993. Five records would follow with Nickel Creek, and its 2002 album, “This Side” won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

The group separated for a time, but in 2014, Thile reunited with Nickel Creek to celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary and released its most recent album, “A Dotted Line.”

After the breakup of Nickel Creek, Thile worked on solo projects and played with different performers. In 2006, he formed a new band – first known as How to Form a Band, then The Tensions Mountain Boys and finally The Punch Brothers. In 2019, the Punch Brothers won a Grammy Award for the Best Folk Album for “All Ashore.”

That was the fourth Grammy Thile had won. In 2013, the album “The Goat Radio Sessions” (with Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan and Edgar Meyer) captured the award for Best Folk Album. One year later, his album with Meyer, “Bass and Mandolin,” won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.

He was also nominated for Grammy Awards in 2005, 2006 and 2012.

Thile received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2012 for his work as a musician and composer.

“Chris Thile is a young mandolin virtuoso and composer whose lyrical fusion of traditional bluegrass with elements from a range of other musical traditions is giving rise to a new genre of contemporary music,” wrote the MacArthur Foundation. “With a broad outlook that encompasses progressive bluegrass, classical, rock and jazz, Thile is transcending the borders of conventionally circumscribed genres in compositions for his own ensembles and frequent cross-genre collaborations.

“Although rooted in the rhythmic structure of bluegrass, his early pieces for his long-time trio, Nickel Creek, have the improvisatory feel of jazz; his (then) current ensemble, Punch Brothers, evokes the ethos of classical chamber music even while adhering to the traditional instrumentation of the bluegrass quintet,” the Foundation concluded.

In November 2018, Thile performed a solo concert at the Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall in New York City.

“Unplugged, Chris Thile is the god of small sounds,” wrote Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim in the New York Times newspaper of Thile’s performance. “He plays the mandolin, which means he coaxes music out of notes that are shy and short-lived.”

Tickets for Thile’s show at CSB are $38 for adults, $35 for seniors, and $31 for CSB/SJU faculty and staff. Youth and students (with ID) get in for $15, and CSB/SJU student tickets are $10.

For tickets, call the Benedicta Arts Center Box Office at 320-363-5777 or order online.

This performance is sponsored in part by Maryanne and John Mahowald.

The activity is made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.