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‘Watkins Family Hour’ comes to Aspen

Siblings Sean and Sara Watkins, of Nickel Creek, lead variety show at Harris Hall on Saturday

Sean and Sara Watkins are bringing their monthly “Watkins Family Hour” show from Los Angeles to Aspen on Saturday, March 5.
IF YOU GO …

What: Watkins Family Hour

Where: Harris Concert Hall

When: Saturday, March 5, 8 p.m.

How much: $50

Tickets: aspenshowtix.com

The Watkins Family Hour has become an unlikely institution of the Los Angeles music scene over the past two decades. Now brother and sister bluegrass players Sean and Sara Watkins are bringing the show on the road to Aspen and headlining Harris Concert Hall on Saturday night.

The Watkins siblings are best known as two-thirds of the Americana trio Nickel Creek, playing fiddle and guitar alongside mandolin player Chris Thile.

As Nickel Creek grew into a Grammy-winning, internationally touring phenomenon, the siblings carved out a niche where they could play for fun in a low-stakes, informal environment among friends, starting the monthly “Watkins Family Hour” as a variety show in 2002.



“It was just a way to blow off steam between Nickel Creek tours,” Sean Watkins said this week in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

But they loved it and so did audiences and fellow L.A.-based artists. Over the years, guests have included the likes of Jackson Browne, Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Phoebe Bridgers and Gillian Welch.




“I think what made it last is just the fact that we let it evolve,” Watkins said. “If we just kept it the same with the same group of people and same songs, same formula, we would have burned out on it a long time ago.”

The duo, in 2015, released a self-titled album that was guest-heavy, loose and filled with cover songs in the “Watkins Family Hour” tradition. But for their 2020 follow-up, “Brother Sister,” the Watkins siblings recorded mostly as a duo on stripped-down original songs.

They released it in April 2020 at the height of pandemic lockdowns and they didn’t get the chance to give it a proper tour.

After delaying and then canceling tours in 2020, they began playing shows for fans on Patreon.

“That was really our saving grace,” Watkins said. “It has allowed us to play the songs for people — sometimes a few people and sometimes more — but it was a way for us to keep the engine idling for a while.”

They finally started hitting the road and playing the “Brother Sister” material in August, shortly after their first return to “Watkins Family Hour” shows at Largo.

“It felt really weird, but it was a lot of fun,” Watkins said. “It’s been awesome to get out and play these songs for actual faces.”

The Watkins siblings emerged from the long shutdown of the live music industry with new gratitude.

“I feel like I haven’t taken one show for granted since then,” he said. “Now every time we walk out on stage I’m really more present and I feel more appreciative than ever.”

They didn’t write or record a lot during those long stay-home stretches.

“I think we were all experiencing trauma in different ways and it made It hard to be creative,” Watkins said. “I did get some writing done. I’m probably being hard on myself. But it brought out a lot of emotions and some of the songs that I wrote ended up being about what we were experiencing in the pandemic and I didn’t want to write pandemic songs.”

This winter, the Watkins duo have been traveling for weekend one-off shows like this weekend’s in Aspen and bringing along friends from their musical family in Los Angeles. For Aspen, their special guests include singer-songwriters David Garza and Gaby Mareno.

“We thought it would be a really great group, the four of us,” Watkins said. “We’re all going to be wearing different musical hats for the performance and it’ll be very collaborative.”

As for Nickel Creek, which hasn’t released an album since 2014, Watkins said fans should stay tuned for news soon.

“We’ve been writing and working and we will announce something soon,” he said, “but I can’t say what it is.”

atravers@aspentimes.com


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