Nickel Creek is an acoustic music trio with roots in bluegrass, which the trio now describes as “progressive acoustic.” Nickel Creek is composed of three permanent members: Chris Thile (mandolin), Sara Watkins (violin/fiddle), and her brother, Sean Watkins (guitar).
They formed in 1989 with Scott Thile, Chris’s father, playing string bass. The Watkins and the Thile families met after Sean Watkins and Chris Thile had mandolin lessons with the same teacher. The oldest of the children, Sean, was only 12 at the time. Nickel Creek played many renowned bluegrass festivals throughout the ’90s, and by mid-decade, the three members of the band had to be home-schooled to accommodate their busy schedule.
Alison Krauss helped to develop their style. She produced their self-titled 2000 release on Sugar Hill, which is considered their first major release. It is their most successful album to date, selling 900,000 copies and earning two Grammy nominations: “Best Bluegrass Album” and “Best Country Instrumental” for the song “Ode to a Butterfly.”
In 2002, This Side was released, soon certified gold for selling 550,000 copies. Nickel Creek released Why Should the Fire Die? in August 2005, though it was not as successful as previous releases, selling only 250,000 copies. In addition, the single “When in Rome” did not chart on any of the Billboard listings.
Mandolin player Chris Thile is an avowed Star Wars fan. “We were at a bar in San Diego,” Thile told starwars.com, “when low and behold, Carrie Fisher appears accompanied by two of her friends. It turned out that she had been invited by a buddy of mine, to whom I let slip, trying to express the depth of my Star Wars fanaticism, that I could play ‘Princess Leia’s Theme’ on the mandolin.... I found myself kneeling down in front of her playing.
“She had a kind of distant look on her face at first, but after 15 seconds, a smile (of reminiscence, I think) was added. At one point, one of her friends leaned over and asked her what I was playing, to which she responded, ‘It’s my theme!’ I finished and launched into another round of apologetic prostration, but she silenced me by thanking me and — oh, how I’ll cherish this memory for the rest of my life — feeding me a piece of bread. ‘Nobody’s ever done that for me before,’ she said. Ms. Fisher, should you ever read this, I can now die happy.”
In the late summer of 2006 via Billboard magazine and their official website, Nickel Creek announced that at the end of that year they would no longer be recording together as a group for an indefinite period of time. The “Farewell (For Now)” tour started in April 2007 and ended in late 2007. In a recent statement, Nickel Creek said that they “wanted to do this in a positive way and take that last lap before our break. We want to see our fans one more time and play with the musicians that have inspired us over the years.”
The “Farewell (For Now)” tour often included Fiona Apple, who usually performed with the band as her backing group and joined them during their own set. They became close to Apple at “The Watkins Family Hour,” a weekly jam session at L.A.’s club Largo, where Jackson Browne has been known to join the Watkins duo and their friends for a few songs.
Sean Watkins and Chris Thile (with the Punch Brothers) have also released solo records.
Sara Watkins has a solo album produced by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. Her new group the Scrolls includes her brother Sean, as well as Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket), Davy Faragher (Cracker), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers), Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello’s Attractions), Greg Leisz, and Luke Bulla.
Deluxe vinyl editions of three band albums were released by Sugar Hill Records on Record Store Day, April 16 2011. Included are digitally remastered versions of their self-titled debut, the Grammy Award winning This Side, and their final Sugar Hill release Why Should The Fire Die?. A mandolin autographed by the band was given away online as well.
A national reunion trek began April 18, 2014, in Nashville, TN, hitting downtown's Balboa Theatre on May 20. Their new album A Dotted Line dropped April 1 via Nonesuch Records. The reunited bluegrass band earned two 2015 Grammy nominations: Best Americana/Roots Performance for their single "Destination" and Best Americana Album for A Dotted Line.
2020 saw an ambitious Craft Records reissue campaign for long out-of-print vinyl releases, including their platinum self-titled album (2000), the Grammy Award-winning This Side (2002), and the best-selling Why Should the Fire Die? (2005). Each album will be pressed on two 180-gram vinyl LPs cut at 45RPM, featuring mastering from the original tapes or high-resolution sources by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering. Each reissue is housed in a double-disc, gatefold jacket. Additionally, the band will offer exclusive editions of each title on their website, limited to 500 copies each. These include Nickel Creek pressed on translucent opal vinyl, This Side on marbled mahogany, and Why Should the Fire Die? in a translucent gold and red marbled variant. The hi-resolution audio for each album was also made digitally available for the first time.
In March 2023, the trio released Celebrants, their fifth studio album - and their first new full-length in nine years. The 18 track album was recorded at Nashville’s RCA Studio A and produced by longtime collaborator Eric Valentine (Queens of the Stone Age, Weezer), preceded by its lead single “Strangers.” According to Thile, “This song is an exploration of the ostensibly rewarding but often awkward, even excruciating act of catching up with an old friend. Can the connection be reforged? Should it be?” They promoted the album with their first headline tour since 2014. A followup single was released for “Where the Long Line Leads.”