Nickel Creek to play Snowmass free concert |

Nickel Creek to play Snowmass free concert

Nickel Creek plays a free show in Snowmass Village tonight.

Ask Sam Bush who the hottest young bluegrass band is, and “Nickel” and “Creek” are the first words to come rolling off his tongue. It’s well-deserved praise from a king of bluegrass. Both Bush and Nickel Creek are scheduled to play the Snowmass Free Concert Series on Fanny Hill this week, Nickel Creek at 6 p.m. today and Sam Bush on Thursday.Nickel Creek has long been the darling of the bluegrass world and national media for how the band blends traditional music with new sounds and different genres. But the three main members – Sara Watkins, Sean Watkins and Chris Thile – aren’t so young anymore.After all, they begin playing music together back in 1989. Today, a band that began partly on the prodigy factor has come into its own, using the influences of the Beatles as much as that of Béla Fleck. So a show by Nickel Creek is as likely to include a cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” as a Bill Monroe classic, and to cover the ground in between with its own music.

“It’s just a cool song, we love it,” guitarist Sean Watkins said of “Toxic.” “We realized it’s a good song, and we could cover all the parts with the instruments we have.”When they play it, mandolin player Thile busts out the girly walk and sings some of the parts in a falsetto. Nickel Creek isn’t above doing anything for a good show – certainly not making fun of themselves. Part of it is that with its high skill level, the band can get away with whatever it wants. It says enough that Thile can hold his own onstage with Bush. Perhaps more telling is that the International Bluegrass Music Association named Thile its Mandolin Player of the Year in 2001, the same year Nickel Creek won Instrumental Band of the Year. Nowadays, the band is enough in demand that they played early at the Bonnaroo festival this year, then traveled to Telluride in time to get in a set the same weekend.They’ve pretty much been on the road since February, though after they play Snowmass there are only a few more shows before a six-month break. All three band members have their own projects to work on.

For Sean, it may be working on another solo album or writing another string quartet.”I have some other people I want to work with,” Sean said. “I’d like to work on movie scoring and produce some songs for some people. Sara’s working on a record, I’ll help her. I wrote a string quartet. I’d like to write another one.”Though he doesn’t regularly play any of the instruments for a string quartet, Sean said music is music and writing is writing.”I know what’s playable on those instruments,” he said. “I play mandolin, and that’s the same strings as the violin. I know what kind of things are playable.”Thile, who has already put out six solo albums, will spend at least part of his time off touring with a new-generation bluegrass band he put together in New York. The band is set to release “How to Grow a Woman From the Ground,” on Sept. 12. The band’s members – Thile, Gabe Witcher, Noam Pikelny, Chris Eldridge and Greg Garrison – put the album together during long sessions in Thile’s one-bedroom apartment then recorded at Sear Sound Recording Studios. It’s a melange of original songs and covers from the likes of the White Stripes, Jimmie Rodgers and Gillian Welch.

Nickel Creek has harnessed those same eccentricities of sound as well. “Every night is a different [set list] depending on how we’re feeling and what we want to play,” Sean said. “It makes it more fun for us. We don’t ever want to play the same set list in the same town.”And at least Sean is psyched about a show in Snowmass. “I’m looking forward to being in Aspen,” he said. “I spend a lot of time in Colorado. I used to camp with my family out there.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is

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