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Nickel Creek returns to Rochester as 'Celebrants'


Nickel Creek's Sean Watkins, Chris Thile, and Sara Watkins come to Rochester on March 16. - PHOTO BY JOSH GOLEMAN
  • Nickel Creek's Sean Watkins, Chris Thile, and Sara Watkins come to Rochester on March 16.
The members of Nickel Creek — fiddle player Sara Watkins, her brother and guitarist Sean Watkins, and mandolinist Chris Thile — have been making music together since they were children. For more than 30 years, the group has worn paths between traditional bluegrass, pop, and folk. It’s difficult to find other bands that have both the English folk song “The Fox” and Britney Spears’s “Toxic” in their repertoire.

At its core, however, Nickel Creek is a trio of singer-songwriters, none of whom bask in a brighter spotlight than the others. The group had previously gone on a seven-year hiatus beginning in 2007, following the release of the album “Why Should the Fire Die?” and a “best of” compilation.

“Now it’s so easy to come back to this,” Thile said. “Having gotten to make lots of music all different ways, to come here and make sure the three of us are evenly represented as musical creators is really satisfying.”

As part of the current tour featuring the 2023 album “Celebrants,” Nickel Creek will play Kodak Center on Friday, March 16. On this latest record, the band reflects on a fresh perspective gained during the pandemic while creating some of the most adventurous music of its career.

“This record is a testament to the power of long-term collaboration — not just reaching out and trying to grab the newest, flashiest thing, but digging, digging in the same hole deeper,” Thile said.

Nickel Creek has long been labeled a progressive bluegrass band. But while the band used to bristle at being called a bluegrass band, labels don’t bother Thile now.

“I'm just happy if people are talking about it at all, one way or another,” he said. “I think there's an aspect of it, too, if you're not from the bluegrass world we're a bluegrass band, and if you are, we're not.” 

Regardless of the genres listeners identify in the music, “Celebrants” lives up to the “progressive" description.  The album opens with the title track, a mercurial song with multiple time signatures and a playful-if-earnest sense of rhythm.

Over the course of 18 songs clocking in at just under an hour, the three musicians flow easily from sophisticated pop on “Holding Pattern” and “Stone’s Throw” to the blues-inspired barnburner “Where the Long Line Leads” and delicate harmonies on “Goddamned Saint” and “Hollywood Ending” — all with the rustic sheen that comes from playing traditional bluegrass instruments.

“We dug (in) more ferociously than we had in a long time,” Thile said. “This record, in a way, feels like a grown-up companion piece to our record 'Why Should the Fire Die?' which we definitely poured ourselves into. That came with the explosiveness of coming of age, whereas I feel like there’s a great deal more maturity behind the dig."


If last summer’s show at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards was any indication as to what the forthcoming Kodak Center show holds, Nickel Creek fans can expect a healthy smattering of beloved older songs mixed in with material from the new album.

Nickel Creek, with opening act Monica Martin, will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 16 at Kodak Center, 200 W. Ridge Road. Available tickets start at $61; tickets to a separate pre-show performance and Q&A with the band at 6:30 p.m. are also available for $39.;

Daniel J. Kushner is an arts writer at CITY. He can be reached at [email protected].