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Bluegrass & Podcasts

The former front man of Nickel Creek is paving new ground

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Sean Watkins has been playing music for a long time. From starting Nickel Creek when he was 12, playing variety type shows with the Watkins Family Hour and now moving out into solo projects, Watkins has definitely made the rounds, with each stop leaving an impression that has helped him grow.

Bluegrass wasn't the norm in Southern California, but Sean Watkins fell in love with the genre regardless. - JASON QUIGLEY
  • Jason Quigley
  • Bluegrass wasn't the norm in Southern California, but Sean Watkins fell in love with the genre regardless.

"I had no idea that I would ever do music as a profession," says Watkins as he recalls first starting music with piano lessons at age 7. "My piano teacher's son was a mandolin player and had a weekly bluegrass show he would put on at a pizza place, which we would go to. So, I eventually fell in love with bluegrass and acoustic music."

He and his eventual Nickel Creek bandmate, Chris Thile, learned from the same music teacher, first meeting at the ages of 9 (Watkins) and 5 (Thile). Joining them would be Watkins' little sister, Sara, who was the same age as Thile. Even before Watkins was a teenager, Nickel Creek was starting to become a thing. The group started out playing on the weekends and making random appearances at festivals, growing to become more than they ever thought possible.

"We got out of high school and our voices stabilized and we started making records and touring really regularly," says Watkins. "It's been a really wild ride and I'm just very grateful to get to do this for a living."

After a very successful tenure with Nickel Creek (the band won a Grammy in 2002 for Best Contemporary Folk Album), Watkins is now out on a new path, navigating the solo world for a couple of years.

"My relationship with playing music for audiences has always been through the lens of a band. With that comes a lot of fun and shared responsibility for the success and non-successes. So, it makes it easier in a band when maybe a show doesn't go well or a record doesn't do as well as you hoped," Watkins says of the transition. "When you're solo it's just your name behind it. So, it's a little taxing at times—but it's also really rewarding to know you can do something like this on your own."

Currently on a quick West Coast run with The Bee Eaters, the two acts have actually been working on a new album together—half of which was recorded on a farm in Santa Barbara, California, and the other in a studio in Portland, Oregon. This collaboration marks the first time Watkins has recorded a solo album with the same band the whole way through.

"This will be a major return to my roots and the music I grew up with. It's the most personal, to me, recording that I've ever made. When I play with them it's really wild and fun."

The release for Watkins' next album, to be titled "This Is Who We Are," is going to be quite unique. He tells the Source that he plans to put it out as not just an album, but a podcast as well. Each episode will feature a song as the main point of discussion as Watkins is joined by people who relate to each piece of music. Watkins says he hopes to release it "in the next month or so," so be sure to keep an eye and ear out.

You can see Sean Watkins and The Bee Eaters perform at the final Sisters Saloon Summer Concert Series on Friday.

Sean Watkins w/ The Bee Eaters
Fri., Aug. 23, 7-10pm
Sisters Saloon
190 E Cascade Ave., Sisters
Bendticket.com
$15

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