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Mandolin whiz Thile brings younger crowd to 'Prairie Home'

Halfway through his first season hosting "A Prairie Home Companion," mandolin maestro Chris Thile still feels "like a kid in a candy store" taking over the long-running popular public radio show created by Garrison Keillor — but knows he has to do one big thing.

"I can be so much more of a relaxed host," Thile said, sounding ebullient over the phone as he prepared for Saturday's show featuring Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer and comedian Marina Franklin from The Town Hall in New York.

Keillor, who turned 74 in August, stepped down in July after four decades of entertaining millions of listeners with tales of the residents of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, delivered in his soothing baritone on Saturday evenings. He tapped 35-year-old Thile, who grew up listening to "Prairie Home" and first appeared on the old-timey musical variety show in 1996 when he was 15, to replace him.

Thile said he hasn't reached out to Keillor since taking over the show. And Keillor, who said he would remain as "Prairie Home" executive producer, said he has taken his name off the show's credits and hasn't listened to any of this season's shows.

"I had complete freedom when I started the show back in 1974 and he (Thile) should get the same consideration from me. The people he needs to connect with are the listeners, not the aging emeritus," Keillor said in an email to The Associated Press.

While Keillor said he misses doing the show, "it makes perfect sense for them (Thile and producer American Public Media) to aim the music and comedy at millennials and not at my fellow septuagenarians."

Thile said program directors were understandably nervous about the switch. In the first season of his three-year contract, he is scheduled to perform 13 live shows, about half a normal 26-show run. (He hopes to do 26 shows next season, and an announcement might come before the season finale at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul in February). But Thile has managed to hold on to a good chunk of Keillor's audience, even without such "Prairie Home" staples as hard-boiled private eye Guy Noir.

"Prairie Home" was drawing 3.1 million listeners weekly at the end of Keillor's tenure. With Thile as host, the audience is projected at more than 2 million, said Dave Kansas, executive vice president and chief operating officer of APM, parent company of Minnesota Public Radio.

About 670 stations in the U.S. carried "Prairie Home" when Keillor was host, Kansas said. Initial projections were that 450 stations would carry Thile's show, but the number is up to 586, he said.

"I think we did a lot of work explaining how Chris could both attract Garrison's audience and bring in a new audience," Kansas said. (The show's audience is younger. With Keillor the median age was 59; this year the average age is estimated to be about 10 years younger.)

General manager Randy Eccles of NPR Illinois in Springfield said some listeners were hoping Keillor wouldn't leave. But Eccles said his station decided to keep "Prairie Home" after APM negotiated "a fair rate," but hasn't decided whether to sign up for another season.

"Eventually you want it to be Chris' show," Eccles said, noting that shows such as "The Tonight Show" have survived a change in "an amazing host."

Heidi Goldfein, program director at WBEZ-FM in Chicago, said her station has seen "no drop-off at all" in listenership from a year ago.

"Right now, I think people are giving it a shot," Goldfein said.

Thile, who recruited bassist Paul Kowert and guitarist Chris Eldridge from his band Punch Brothers to join the house band, is luring hipper musical guests. Jack White, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and singer-songwriter Jason Isbell have performed; future guests include singer-pianist Regina Spektor, Justin Vernon of the band Bon Iver and alt-country star Ryan Adams.

Composer and pianist Rich Dworsky, 63, the show's longtime music director who is going into his 24th season on "Prairie Home," said Thile is getting more comfortable each week.

"He's impressing me and surprising me each week with his talent," Dworsky said.

Fan Adam DeBeck, 32, of South Bend, Indiana, said he likes the new musical talent.

"That means a lot to me in the new era of 'Prairie Home' that there were going to be guests that appealed to my sensitivities," DeBeck said.

To replace Keillor's weekly monologue "The News From Lake Wobegon," Thile is writing a weekly, topical song and saluting musicians' birthdays. "Prairie Home" is bringing in comedians and spoken-word artists, and six writers are crafting the sketches that used to be written by Keillor alone.

"People are coming around. They're understanding this is a continuation of the show. It's a different energy and a different feel," said actor Tim Russell, 69, who has been with "Prairie Home" for 22 years.

Former Wisconsin Public Radio director Jack Mitchell, 75, calls Thile a "very appealing person on the air."

"There is a youthful enthusiasm, that kind of excitement," Mitchell said. "It's not the same," he added. "The lack of Garrison is pretty evident."




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Hvorostovsky withdraws from staged opera because of tumor

Dmitri Hvorostovsky has withdrawn from a staged opera performance because of treatment for a brain tumor.

The 54-year-old Russian baritone was diagnosed with the tumor in June 2015. He was given emotional receptions when he appeared that fall as the Count di Luna in Verdi's "Il Trovatore" at New York's Metropolitan Opera and the title character in Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" at London's Royal Opera.

He sang four performances last month as Giorgio Germont in Verdi's "La Traviata" at the Vienna State Opera and was due to star in a revival of "Onegin" at the Met next April.

"I have been experiencing balance issues associated with my illness, making it extremely difficult for me to perform in staged productions," Hvorostovsky said in a statement Thursday.

While he is withdrawing from staged performances, he said he "will continue to give concerts and recitals as well as make recordings. Singing is my life, and I want to continue bringing joy to people worldwide."

Hvorostovsky also said that "with this pause in my operatic career and more rest in between each engagement, I hope to have more time to focus on my health and treatment."

He will be replaced in "Onegin" by Mariusz Kwiecien and Peter Mattei.

Rolling Stone's Mick Jagger celebrates birth of 8th child

Mick Jagger's representatives say the rock legend has welcomed the birth of his eighth child.

Jagger, the 73-year-old frontman of the Rolling Stones, was on hand Thursday at a New York hospital when girlfriend, Melanie Hamrick, gave birth to the couple's son. According to a statement, both parents are "delighted" and "mother and baby are doing well."

Jagger already has seven children — Georgia, James, Jade, Elizabeth, Lucas, Karis and Gabriel — who range in age from their 40s to teenagers.

He became a great-grandfather in May 2014 when Jade's daughter, Assisi, gave birth to a baby girl.

Hamrick is a 29-year-old ballerina who has performed with the American Ballet Theatre in New York. They began dating after the suicide of fashion designer L'Wren Scott in 2014, Jagger's partner of 13 years.

In May, fellow Rolling Stone Ron Wood became a father again at 68 after his wife, Sally Humphreys, gave birth to twin girls.

Jagger and his bandmates recently released "Blue & Lonesome," the iconic rock group's first album in 11 years. The 12-track set includes covers of blues songs from Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Eddie Taylor and more.

Justin Bieber's 'Sorry' tops Vevo's most-watched of 2016

Bieber scored three of the top 10 most-watched Vevo videos this year. Vevo says Bieber's "Sorry" topped the global list with more than 1.8 billion views. The Canadian singer's "What Do You Mean?" and "Love Yourself" placed fifth and sixth on the list.

Adele's "Hello" was second with more than 1.2 billion plays. Fifth Harmony placed third with "Work from Home."

Vevo also says David Bowie's videos received the biggest number of views in a 24-hour period outside of new releases. Bowie's videos were viewed 51 million times in the period following his death in January.

Vevo is the music video platform of Sony and Universal.

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra strike ends with $700K donated

Musicians with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra have ended their three-month strike by approving a new contract bolstered by a $700,000 donation.

Symphony officials and the American Federation of Musicians on Wednesday announced terms were reached on a four-year deal.

A statement says a donor, who wishes not to be publicly identified, provided the financial gift last week to help end the strike that began Sept. 8. The walkabout began when musicians rejected a contract that initially included pay cuts.

The orchestra has 65 full-time musicians who earned an average $62,000 annually, plus health benefits. The new deal means a two-year pay freeze, followed by two years of slightly higher salaries.

The first paid week back for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra musicians will be Dec. 26.



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