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Nickel Creek turns in a ballroom burner performance in Portland

Nickel Creek, live at the Crystal Ballroom, Portland OR, May 16


After waiting six-and-a-half years for Nickel Creek's return to Portland, that moment finally arrived on May 16. At the steamy, sold-out Crystal Ballroom, the bustling ballroom anxiously awaited with anticipation to hear the band’s folk-driven, progressive-bluegrass Americana pop the band has successfully championed over the years.

Nickel Creek
Nickel Creek
Photo: Pat Herrera

On the tail end of their current tour, and in town to celebrate their 25th anniversary together, Nickel Creek's affable frontman and mandolin maestro Chris Thile (whose actor good looks could have had him double for Jude Law in Cold Mountain and gigged with Jack White), was joined by brother and sister band mates, Sara & Sean Watkins, violinist and guitarist, respectfully, accomplished in their own right, played a sparkling, energetic 90-minute set of fan favorites covering the breadth of their four album catalog. The band was also joined by two-time International Bluegrass Music Association’s Bass Player of the Year, Mark Schatz.

Nickel Creek eased into the evening with the lead track, Rest of My Life, from their new album, A Dotted Line, released last month. The track showcased a warm splash of Thile’s balanced folksy croon and mandolin, accompanied by Sara & Sean’s harmonic backing vocals and polished musicianship.

As can be expected, the Nickel Creek concert was an animated affair, charged with Thile’s charisma and the band’s talented musicianship and humor. Facilitated by their spirited camaraderie as long-time friends and band members, the band got the crowd moving during three of their instrumental jams, Scotch & Chocolate, Smoothie Song, which Thile reluctantly admitted ownership of the song title, and the head bobbin’, toe-tappin’ dance of Ode to Butterfly, which elicited unbridled clapping and stomping that loudly echoed on the Crystal’s famed floating dance floor.

The instrumental Stumptown didn’t make the setlist as it had in years past. Back in 2005, Thile had acknowledged at their Roseland concert his fondness for the local coffee roaster’s Hair Bender espresso. It, no doubt, left a memorable impression on the younger Thile. And whether it was the coffee or the music, he also made mention he has taken up local residence in the Rose City.

Equally versatile, Nickel Creek performed a number of sweet, folk ballads including Jealous Of The Moon, the gentle, passionate love songs When You Come Back Down, This Side, and pleading sincerity of Helena.

Showcasing their best singer-songwriter storytelling, each member featured a song capturing the misfortunes of love, and sang their own tales of romantic trials and tribulation. Sara started the heart struck set with Anthony, then later followed in the set by Thile’s positive channeling of anger, the newly penned You Don’t Know What’s Going On, and concluded with Sean’s bittersweet adieu, Somebody More Like You.

Nickel Creek concluded their main set with back to back barn burner’s, the Mother Mother’s cover of Hayloft and The Fox from their 2000 debut. With all the excitement from the final two songs, their 4-song encore had the crowd hoopin’ & hollerin’ as did Schatz’s cloggin’ on stage during Cuckoo Nest. As the show concluded, the faithful crowd listened quietly as Sara sweetly sang the ending swan song, Where Is Love Now.

Whether your prefer scotch, chocolate, or Hair Bender, you'll be able to catch Nickel Creek this summer at Pickathon, August 1-3, in Happy Valley, Oregon. Tickets are on sale now. In the meantime, let's welcome another gifted, resident musician to Portland.