Forecastle Festival: Nickel Creek's easy reunion coincides with guitarist's solo record

Contributing Music WriterJuly 17, 2014 

Nickel Creek's Chris Thile, left, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins have reunited after a seven-year hiatus for the band.

BRANTLEY GUTIERREZ

  • Forecastle schedule

    When: July 18-20

    Where: Waterfront Park, 129 E. River Rd., Louisville

    Tickets: $94.50-$199.50

    Online: Forecastlefest.com

    Here is an abbreviated schedule of acts performing on four stages. The music begins at 1:30 p.m. each day.

    There are also several after-hours performances that require separate admission.

    July 18

    The Black Lips (2:15 p.m.), JJ Grey and Mofro (3:15 p.m.), Against Me! (4 p.m.), Willie Watson (5 p.m.), Gary Clark Jr. (5 p.m.), Local Natives (5:45 pm), Twenty One Pilots (7 p.m.), Spoon (7:45 p.m.), Outkast (9:20 p.m.)

    July 19

    Hooray for the Riff Raff (1:30 p.m.) Spanish Gold (3:30 p.m.), Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (5:15 p.m.), Jason Isbell (6 p.m.), Band of Horses (7 p.m.), Dwight Yoakam (8 pm), Slint (8:30 p.m.), Jack White (9:30 p.m.)

    July 20

    Brett Dennen (4:15 p.m.), Trampled by Turtles (4:45 p.m.), Jenny Lewis (6 p.m.), Nickel Creek (6:30 p.m.), Tune-Yards (7 p.m.), The Replacements (7:45 p.m.), Hayes Carll (8:30 p.m.) Ray LaMontagne (8:30 p.m.), Beck (9:45 p.m.)

    For a full festival schedule, go to Lineup.forecastlefest.com/events.

As it turns out, timing isn't necessarily everything.

Take, for instance, two new recordings involving guitarist Sean Watkins that show the exciting, but not always timely, duality of his career.

The first is a solo effort, All I Do Is Lie, that is the Californian's sharpest serving yet of folk-pop songcraft. But just as the record was nearing completion, along came A Dotted Line, a new album by the bluegrass-pop trio that catapulted Watkins to national prominence: Nickel Creek.

"Initially, I had planned to have my album out a lot earlier, like last year sometime," said Watkins, whose last recording in or out of Nickel Creek had surfaced in 2006. "But one thing would come up and then something else would come up. It just took a while to finish. I did have it done last summer, right around the time we were writing for Nickel Creek."

But as work on A Dotted Line began, his Nickel Creek bandmates — fiddler and sister Sara Watkins, and mandolinist Chris Thile — took a shine to 21st of May, one of the finished tunes for Sean Watkins' solo album.

"We needed a song that sounded like 21st of May, so Sara and Chris asked if we could use it for the Nickel Creek record, which, of course, was fine with me," he said. "Then I needed another song to replace it. So I wrote the song All I Do Is Lie, which became the title track. Still, I decided on holding off releasing it until after the Nickel Creek record."

So 2014 began as the year Nickel Creek returned from a hiatus that began in 2007. The parting was viewed as indefinite at the time, complete with a "farewell for now" tour and anthology album (Reasons Why) to cement what was decidedly a break, not a breakup.

Since then, Thile has navigated a new career with the progressive string band Punch Brothers and a succession of strong solo and duo recordings, including a 2013 album of Bach sonatas and preludes for solo mandolin). The Watkins siblings toured extensively behind solo records by Sara. The road work included two treks with veteran songsmith Jackson Browne.

"That was really fun," Sean Watkins says. "Sara was opening, so I was playing with her. Then we would play in Jackson's band for a good part of his show. He's a hero of ours. We were playing with him a lot locally in Los Angeles, but to get out on the road and see him do a show was special and a really great learning experience. We would watch from the side of the stage every night and try to soak up as much of his good mojo as possible."

The road back to Nickel Creek was, in a word ...

"Easy," Watkins said. "The whole reason it happened was because it was so easy. We realized this would be our 25th year as a band (Watkins, the eldest member, was 12 when Nickel Creek began). We originally thought we could do 25 shows and put together a little EP to sell at them. So we got together last June (2013) in New York at Chris' apartment and started writing, to see what we had and test the waters. It was amazingly easy and fun. So we just kind of kept going. Pretty soon, we had enough songs for a real record release. It just happened naturally."

Nickel Creek will be on the road through August. While plans after that are uncertain, Watkins is devoting at least some of the fall to touring behind All I Do Is Lie. He also is performing songs from the record during Nickel Creek's current tour, which stops at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville on Sunday night.

"We've always said everybody should be in at least two bands," he said. "It's healthy, it makes you a better musician and it stretches you in new ways. So I'm grateful to be able to have a situation like this."

More stories on the Forecastle Festival

Jenny Lewis' dark, personal voyage to her new album

St. Paul excited to play past his bedtime

Bourbon brings Kentucky spirits to Forecastle Festival lineup

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