Nickel Creek (formerly known as The Nickel Creek Band) was an American progressive acoustic music trio consisting of Chris Thile (mandolin), Sara Watkins (fiddle) and Sean Watkins (guitar). The band was founded in 1989 and released six albums between 1993 and 2006, winning a 2003 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Nickel Creek disbanded in 2007.
The two families, the Watkinses and the Thiles, met after Sean Watkins and Chris Thile had mandolin lessons with the same music instructor, John Moore. Sara Watkins studied with Moore's bandmate, Dennis Caplinger. The band name comes from a song by Byron Berline, who was Sara Watkins' fiddle instructor.
Early days: 1989–1999
Nickel Creek's first performance was at That Pizza Place in Carlsbad, California in 1989 with Scott Thile, Chris's father, playing string bass. The oldest of the Watkins children, Sean was only twelve years old at the time. At the start of Nickel Creek's history, Chris Thile played guitar and Sean Watkins played mandolin but later they decided to switch instruments. The band played many bluegrass festivals throughout the 1990s, and the band members were home-schooled to accommodate their tour schedule. Nickel Creek's first two albums were Little Cowpoke (1993) and Here to There (1997).
Nickel Creek: 2000–2001
Nickel Creek met Alison Krauss at one of their shows and later invited her to produce their next album. According to band member Sara Watkins, the group was "thrilled" with the guidance they received from Krauss to upgrade their vocal sound and the overall "production of the CD."
The group received two Grammy nominations: Best Bluegrass Album and Best Country Instrumental for the song "Ode to a Butterfly". The trio was nominated at the CMA Awards for Best Vocal Group and the Horizon Award and were named one of the "Five Music Innovators of the Millennium" by TIME Magazine in May 2000. Nickel Creek's "The Lighthouse's Tale" video was nominated for a CMT "Flameworthy Video Award" for Group/Duo Video of the Year.
The band went on tour and opened eleven shows for Lyle Lovett in the summer of 2000 and appeared on Austin City Limits in January 2001 with Dolly Parton. A month later Parton invited Nickel Creek to perform as her backup band at the 2001 Grammy Awards. The trio also had a spring tour with Glen Phillips in a collaboration dubbed Mutual Admiration Society. A self-titled album was set to be released, but was delayed until 2004. Nickel Creek also opened for Vince Gill and Amy Grant in that winter. Shortly after Nickel Creek started touring, Scott Thile decided to leave the band to spend time with his family. He was replaced by bassist Byron House and in March 2001 was replaced by bassist, Derek Jones.
This Side: 2002–2004
In 2002 the band released their fourth album, This Side, produced by Alison Krauss. It was a departure from their previous releases which was purely bluegrass. Although the core influence of bluegrass remained, other genres such as indie rock and folk rock were present in their music included cover songs Spit on a Stranger by Pavement, and Should've Known Better by Carrie Newcomer.
A review in Allmusic said that "Thile and the Watkins siblings' originals, easily outdo the likes of folk-rockers Dave Matthews and Hootie & the Blowfish, while forging a new style to rejuvenate a genre that has always been a bit of a dark horse."
This Side entered the Billboard 200 at No. 18 on the chart, and at No. 2 on the magazine's Top Country Albums chart. The album was certified gold the following year by the RIAA. The success of This Side earned the group a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. The band was featured in Rolling Stone's "Best Of 2002" edition.
During their 2002 and 2003 tour Nickel Creek opened five shows for John Mayer in November 2002, and toured with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings earlier in the year. In 2003, Nickel Creek appeared on the Béla Fleck and the Flecktones album Little Worlds.
Why Should the Fire Die?: 2005
In 2005 the band released their fifth album, Why Should the Fire Die? with more rock and pop influences. the album debuted and peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 and topped the Billboard bluegrass chart.
In the summer of 2006 Nickel Creek appeared at numerous music festivals, including Bonnaroo, High Sierra Music Festival, Austin City Limits, SXSW, Lollapalooza and Star Fest.
Farewell (For Now): 2006–2007
In late summer 2006, via Billboard and their official website, Nickel Creek announced that at the end of the year they would no longer be recording as a group and their tour, scheduled through 2007, would be their last for an indefinite period of time so band members could expand their musical horizons.
In November 2006 Sugar Hill released Reasons Why: The Very Best, a compilation of selected studio tracks from Nickel Creek's three latest albums, as well as two previously unreleased tracks and all of the music videos from the trio's singles. Their seven-month Farewell (For Now) Tour started in April 2007 and ended in November. The tour was originally intended to be called the Victory Lap Tour, but the band's managers thought that would make them sound "presumptuous and boastful".
The tour featured numerous guest appearances by Glen Phillips, Jon Brion, Fiona Apple, Bruce Molsky, Bela Fleck, Tom Brosseau and Tift Merritt, among others.
The band had plans to record its final performance at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in November 2007 but the idea was later "scrapped".
Awards and nominations
- 2000: IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year
- 2001: IBMA Instrumental Group of the Year
- 2003: Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album (This Side)
- 2006: CMT Top 10 Country Compilations of 2006 (Reasons Why: The Very Best)
- 2001: Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album (Nickel Creek)
- 2001: Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance ("Ode to a Butterfly")
- 2001: CMA Award for Best Vocal Group
- 2001: CMA Horizon Award
- 2005: Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album (Why Should the Fire Die?)
- 2005: Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance ("Scotch & Chocolate")
- Nickel Creek's official site
- Archived Audio Featured on show 165 of WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour
- NewMusicBox cover: Chris Thile in conversation with Frank J. Oteri, October 27, 2008 (includes video)
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Image from Discogs