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Twofer: Nickel Creek Concert and Sarah Watkins Interview

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On April 15th I had the privilege of seeing Nickel Creek in concert! Finally I had an opportunity to redeem myself after having passed up an $8 show in Missoula before they had gotten a big name. My wife and I forwent Donald Trump’s Apprentice finale in favor of a night at the Big Easy in Spokane, WA.

If you’re not familiar with Nickel Creek they’re a newgrass band. Newgrass is the genre of new-style bluegrass. The band consists of Sara Watkins on fiddle, her brother Sean Watkins on guitar, and Chris Thile on mandolin. Sean pronounced his finger-pickin’ friend’s last name as Thee-Lay, so I expect that’s how we should say it too. In the early days, Chris’ father played the upright bass, but now they have another guy, who also has some clogging skills.

The Big Easy is a general admission only venue, so we didn’t get any special seats. Actually, we didn’t get seats at all, we were standing for the entire three hour show, including the opening act. It was an all-ages party as well, which meant when I bought a Fat Tire I had to stay behind a certain line with it, which was unfortunate because my party was on the wrong side of the line. They had some video projectors and really cheap home video cameras mounted on the walls with 12x digital zoom features. In other words the video was crap. Worse than crap. Big Easy needs to hire a video tech and spend some dough to upgrade their system. Or just turn off the video and stop pretending. Their audio setup was nice though, and not a note was lost, which is the important point in a concert like this.

Nickel CreekWe arrived at the packed house at show time, about 7:00 p.m. and made our way through the thick crowd of kids until we found some people we knew. Some gal named Mindy opened for Nickel Creek, and even though my friends and wife liked her style, I thought she was drunk and imprecise. Those are musical terms. In any case, Sara Watkins introduced Mindy and disappeared for an hour or so, and came back out with her crew.

Nickel Creek

From the two albums I own, the only ones that are still in print and the ones produced by Alison Krauss, I got the impression that Sara was sort of playing third fiddle (be aware of pun!). Also the fact that Sean and Chris both have their own solo albums out and Sara doesn’t (yet?) gave me that impression. At the show this is not the case. She stole the show with her incredible fiddle action and stage performance. Chris was a close second and Sean just sort of played his guitar while no one was watching. Maybe he’s shy.

Most of the music they played is off of This Side, their newer, more jaded album, but they also played their big hits, Lighthouse’s Tale and The Fox. The live Green and Grey still sends shivers up my spine just remembering it. Two songs braided together to make a beautiful song called Jacksmith was incredible. They also covered some Gillian Welch song about a rape, Nirvana, and Beck. I was impressed with that, especially considering the style changes in instruments, and the fact that the songs were so incredibly recognizable and untortured. Throwing bluegrass into a Nirvana tribute album would be a great idea. Quick, somebody patent that for me.

One obvious problem is that the band was tired. If any of their managers are reading this, get a clue. A concert every single day for months as the schedule on their website suggests is just too much. A good $37,500 dollars were raked in ticket sales the night I was watching, and even though I don’t know how it all gets divvied up, I’m sure that’s not bad for covering two or three days expenses so they can take a freakin’ rest. I don’t fault the band for being tired, I feel sorry for them. They’re incredible musicians and getting worked.

This review brought to you by Russell Mann. He hopes to become a full-time blogger, and you can help by reading more at

Now for the second act… Interview with Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek

Considering the fact that Sara Watkins blew the lid off the show reviewed earlier, I figured it was my duty to dig up some more info about her. We’ll start with this handy interview by iBluegrass. Some highlights include the fact that she’s working on her first album, self-titled. The interview is dated 2000, and I havn’t seen the album yet, so who knows where it went.

I wanted to mention that my impression when I saw her on stage is that she’s the next Alison Krauss, just give her a few years. The interview is reproduced here just to make sure we have access to it should iBluegrass disappear for any reason.

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About Russell Mann

  • http://www, Casper

    I caught Nickelcreek playing at the Kennedy Center a year ago or so; great show, I’d highly recommend it.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Russ, very nice job, sounds great, and give those kids a rest!

  • Danna

    I never had an opportunity to watch them perform live. But I really love to listen to their song “This Side”.