Music, Personal Reflection

Missing Nickel Creek

“Others have excuses but I have my reasons why…”

Nickel Creek has been popping up on my Pandora mix. The songs are creating a nostalgic ache in me. How I miss them! I hope you won’t mind if I write a little ode to the band and their gorgeous music. I well remember the first time I discovered Nickel Creek. Channel flipping in the 4th floor lounge of the college dormitory, the sound I heard when I reached CMT (which used to play music videos most of the day instead of inane reality television) made me put down the remote. On the screen were three kids… well, not really kids. They looked to be my age. A guy with a guitar, a girl with a violin, and a guy with a mandolin. There they were, harmonizing on “When You Come Back Down,” and there I was, riveted. The sound created by their voices and instruments struck me as thrilling and soothing at the same time. I had to hear more! Based on half a music video, I bought their album. I knew every word by heart in a matter of days. I couldn’t get enough.

While falling in love with their music, I fell out of love with a lot of formerly enjoyable music. It dawned on me that musicians could do so much better; that songs could be more genuine, more clever; that I didn’t need to settle for the clear cut categories of ‘pop’ and ‘country’ that the radio stations hailed as all the best music. Listening to Nickel Creek at 19 years old changed the way I have listened to music ever since and it changed what sort of music I wanted to hear. I’d love to thank them for that.

The band turned out to consist of brother and sister, Sean and Sara Watkins and friend, Chris Thile. Before they wrapped up their Nickel Creek life, I saw them in concert four times, fell in love with each of their albums and introduced a wide range of folks to their music. Each album (only 3, sadly, not counting the hits collection or their pre-major label album) is astoundingly unique. Each stands on its own as a strong piece of art, carrying in it the band’s sound – bluegrass, folk, americana… a single name is not enough – as well as a particular style that shapes that whole album, and only that album. Songs with Chris in the lead, Sara in the lead, Sean in the lead; songs featuring Sean’s incredible guitar skills or Sara’s emotionally alive fiddle performances or Chris’s mandolin that he managed to make sound like a whole collection of mandolins playing together. And the harmonies! Needless to say, the concerts are among the best concerts I’ve every been privileged to enjoy. My first one, at Northwestern in Evanston, and the third one, in Green Bay at the Meyer Theater, are right up at the top with my favorite experiences in life.

A couple years ago, the members of Nickel Creek decided to call it a day. Who can blame them? Only in their mid to late 20s, the band had already been performing together for the majority of their lives. They’ve each continued making music through a variety of projects (Sean’s collaboration with Jon Foreman as “Fiction Family” and his solo “Blinders On”, Sara’s solo record released this year, and both “Deceiver” and “How to Grow a Woman From the Ground” by Chris are all ridiculously good) but I can’t deny that there are days that pop up when I only wish for new music from Nickel Creek. After the amazing album that was “Why Should the Fire Die,” I am fascinated by the question of what they’d have managed to do next!

The one that started it for me:

The one that’s in my head presently:

A couple from the final album: and

And just because it’s loads of fun, Nickel Creek covers Britney Spears:

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