RIYL: Nickel Creek, Sara Watkins, Watkins Family Hour
Nickel Creek was 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.
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.
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.
Watkins also has a side band with Jon Foreman (Switchfoot) called Fiction Family. 2009’s self-titled debut was almost entirely self-created by the two musician/songwriters working in their own home studios. An early 2013 followup, Fiction Family Reunion, found the duo joined by touring bassist Tyler Chester and drummer Aaron Redfield, both now full-fledged Family members.
Fiction Family Reunion was recorded at Switchfoot’s Spot X Studio in Carlsbad over a series of sessions spanning 2010 to early 2012, the lengthy process necessitated by Foreman's and Watkins’ busy schedules. A family in more than just name only, the band was joined on a number of tracks by Nickel Creek fiddle player Sara Watkins and multi-instrumentalist John Mark Painter.
Sean and Sara Watkins began hosting weekly Watkins Family Hour event in L.A. during a Creek hiatus, attracting all-star lineup of players. A self-titled Watkins Family Hour album was released in 2015.