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John Davisson, Invision/Associated Press
Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers performs at the Suwannee Springfest at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, on Friday, March 21, 2014 in Live Oak, Florida.

MINNEAPOLIS — Mandolinist Chris Thile of the band Punch Brothers says hosting "A Prairie Home Companion" is like "getting to be Luke Skywalker."

Thile will substitute for "Prairie Home" host and creator Garrison Keillor on the public radio show Saturday and Feb. 14 from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

"It's an incredible honor. It's a bone-chilling honor, like, a blood-curdling one," Thile, 33, told The Associated Press on Thursday, comparing it to trading shoes with the "Star Wars" protagonist.

A longtime "Prairie Home" fan, Thile was 15 when he made his first appearance on the show in 1996. He estimates he's made 14 or 15 visits total. His Nickel Creek bandmate, singer and fiddler Sara Watkins, hosted in 2011.

Thile said Keillor told him to "just talk to the people. People love to be talked to."

Punch Brothers will be one of the musical guests Saturday. With Keillor gone, there won't be his signature "The News from Lake Wobegon" monologue, in which he recounts the quiet week in his fictional Minnesota hometown, "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average." But there will be familiar hallmarks, including "Prairie Home" music director and pianist Richard Dworsky, the acting company and commercials for fake products such as Powdermilk Biscuits.

"Prairie Home" has been "an oasis of exposure" for acoustic music, Thile said. He said the show "gives those of us whose instruments are hollow a real platform on which to play some music."

Keillor, 72, is on a West Coast tour of his one-man show and says he's looking forward to listening to "Prairie Home" live for the first time in its 40-year history.

"A Prairie Home Companion" is heard on more than 600 public radio stations across the U.S. and has a weekly audience of nearly 4 million listeners.


A Prairie Home Companion: http://www.prairiehome.org

Punch Brothers: http://www.punchbrothers.com

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