Don Messerli’s Blog |

An exercise in self-indulgence.

Goodbye Nickel Creek! I Hardly Knew Ya

Friday Nov 30, 2007

Nickel Creek PosterI was driving into work about 3 weeks ago listening to Lightning 100, a radio station recommended to me by a co-worker. They did one of those “on this day in history” things and then proceeded to pose a question that you could call in and answer to win something. On that date in history, Al Gore called George W. Bush to concede the 2000 election only to call him back a few hours later and retract his concession. The question was something like, “What voting technology caused the confusion in Palm Beach County Florida during the 2000 presidential election?”. Having lived through the whole thing from a few counties away, I knew the answer. It was the Butterfly Ballot.

I thought there was no way I would win for two reasons. 1. Everyone knows the answer to that question. 2. I’ve never called Lightning 100 before, so I’d have to dial the number manually not having it on speed dial yet. I dialed the number and got a busy signal. Redial. Busy signal. I surmised that if the line was still busy, nobody had the right answer yet. I redialed a total of about 15 times and it started ringing. The DJ answered. I expected her to say that someone had already gotten the answer. Instead, she asked what my answer was. I said, “The Butterly Ballot” and she said “Thank God! You don’t know how many idiots called in and said ‘The Hanging Chad’”. The conversation continued briefly alternating between her ranting about the general ignorance of people and welcoming me to Nashville. She took all my information and told me I could pick up the tickets at their studios and should do it soon because the concert was on November 29th.

To tell the truth, I didn’t know what I had won tickets to and being hesitant to be yet another ignorant idiot in her eyes, I didn’t ask. I went to their web site and saw that a group called Nickel Creek were playing at The Ryman on the 29th. It was later confirmed by a few co-workers that I had won tickets to see Nickel Creek. They heard my name announced on the radio. One of them was the same co-worker that had recommended the radio station to me. I didn’t even hear the announcement as I went into Publix right after handing up the phone.

I looked up Nickel Creek on Wikipedia to see what I should expect. I found this part interesting…

In late summer 2006, via Billboard and their official website, Nickel Creek announced that at the end of the year they would no longer be recording together as a group and their tour scheduled through 2007 would be their last for an indefinite period of time. According to Thile, “It’s always been so natural, but lately it hasn’t been quite as natural and we’re running the risk of actually having to break up. We would rather leave it for a while, while it’s still intact and healthy.”

I also saw that the last two dates of their tour were the two dates at The Ryman and my tickets would be for their final show. A rare opportunity albeit a sad one. I have a curse when it comes to adding new (to me) artists to my musical horizon. Either I get into someone who releases albums about as often as Haley’s Comet comes around: Daniel Lanois, Peter Gabriel, Marc Cohn, Lindsey Buckingham. Or, I get into a group that is no longer together: The Band. Or, I get into someone who is dead: Harry Nilsson, Jeff Buckley. I got into Jeff Buckley in 2003 later to find out that he’d been dead for six years.

The concert was great! If you labeled their music as Bluegrass, you’d be missing what they’re all about. It’s a conglomeration of styles (Rock, Folk, Jazz) with Bluegrass influences. A mandolin, violin, guitar and stand-up bass make up the band. The lead singer, Chris Thile, is an amazing mandolin player. He can play the Bluegrass and Celtic styles of mandolin very well but then he takes it to the next level and rocks out on the thing. He’s the Jimi Hendrix of the mandolin. He didn’t set it on fire; but it wouldn’t have surprised me. They played a lot of their songs and I can’t say there was a bad one in the bunch. They also did covers of I Want You Back by the Jackson 5, Taxman by The Beatles and The Weight by The Band.

One really cool aspect of the concert were the guest appearances by Béla Fleck, Chris’ father Scott Thile (on stand-up bass), Benmont Tench, Tim O’Brien, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

After their last song, Nickel Creek came back on for an encore. And what an encore. They brought back on all of their guest performers and it pretty much was a bluegrass jam session that lasted the better part of 45 minutes. Phenomenal!

The end got a little emotional. They sang a goodbye song a cappella and you could feel the emotion both from them and the audience. They’ve made a lot of people happy with their music and the feeling, at least from the fans, was that this was the end. I tend to look at it in a different way. It gives them the freedom to branch out and work with other musicians more than they’ve done in the past. The output of good music and happiness from these three gifted musicians will be multiplied as they go their separate ways.