Review: The Nickel Creek reunion tour proves that absence does, indeed, make the heart grow fonder


More photos on my Flickr account.

For the past 12 years, posts about music on this blog have been rare. And on those rare occasions, those posts have been almost 100% about the members of Nickel Creek. (The reason for why “just them” is buried in those posts, somewhere.)

This post is the next in that rare tradition. My wife and I attended the group’s “reunion” concert last Friday at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. As I predicted last week, Friday night’s performance “was awesome” and did everything you’d hope such a “reunion” concert would do: (1) Rekindle memories among those who were in their late-teens and 20s during the early 2000s (not my demographic, in other words), who had Nickel Creek playing in the background during the period when musical tastes get seared into ones soul; and (2) Give musically-engaged fans a glimpse at what a group that started playing together shortly after birth (Sara and Chris were 8 years old and Sean, 12), would have done had they not stopped to head off in their individual directions six years ago.

Anyone familiar with the depth of their individual musicianships and mastery of their instruments (I’m guessing they each had passed 10,000 hours of practice by their mid teens) would know they’d pick up playing as a group where they stopped playing as a group–the way three siblings (two by birth, the other by bluegrass) can pick up anything harmonious, or not-harmonious, after a long absence.

Unlike most groups hitting the reunion trail, Sean, Sara and Chris aren’t trying to recapture old glory or wallow in nostalgia. They are all still young and still growing as musicians. And they haven’t been out of sight as individual musicians. During the past six years, they have about a half-dozen albums among them, either as solo or group projects. Chris has recorded and toured with the Punch Brothers, won a Grammy for an album with Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan and Edgar Meyer; was the youngest Macarthur Fellow of 2012 (the $500,000 “Macarthur Genius” award), and got married. (And for those who are into musical instruments, Chris added to his tool-set the mandolin someone of his talent and mastery should have.)  Sara also got married, recorded two successful solo albums, was the first-ever guest host of A Prairie Home Companion, and also toured as a “guest member” of the Decemberists. Sean has collaborated on several recording and writing projects (Fiction Family, Works Progress Administration) and continues to regularly perform with Sara.

In addition to the tour, the three have also recorded a new studio album, A Dotted Line, that demonstrates the depths of their talent and dedication to mastering their collective and collaborative crafts. (And includes some potential hit singles in a couple of genres.)

Bottom line: Rather than having a reunion, the three musicians picked it up where they left off six years ago, with a little more nuance and appreciation for what they’ve done–and continue to do–together. And a lot more fun.

In hindsight, and IMHO, putting Nickel Creek on hiatus was not only the right thing for them to do, it was the necessary thing to do. The Watkins and Thile needed to “grow up” and develop as individuals (I am speaking in terms of their maturity as musicians, but common sense would suggest also they needed some maturity in other parts of their lives, as well.)

There was joy on the stage and in the audience last Friday night; another in a long line of historic moments that have taken place on one of the world’s most hallowed musical stages.

Compared to the final stop on their previous tour on that same stage, this show did not overly focus on them as a relic–rather it was all about pleasing the audience. There were no guest performers sitting in, something the farewell tour had in abundance. (However, there was a warmly received short set by the opening act, Secret Sisters.)

Had Thile and the Watkins not used the past six years to provide any of their various tribes of fans an endless variety of musical journeys to follow,  one could possibly complain that the album and concert are like a “more of the same” reunion tour with nothing new explored. However, after journeying with Sean, Sara and Chris from their explorations of classical to avant-garde to pop to progressive-bluegrass to roots and Americana and other genres I’ve overlooked, the fans have paid their dues: they deserved a heaping dose of the classic Nickel Creek and that’s exactly what they got.

Except better. Far, far better.

Set list:

Rest of My Life
The Lighthouse’s Tale
Scotch & Chocolate
This Side
Reasons Why
When In Rome
21st of May
Smoothie Song
Sabra Girl
You Don’t Know What’s Going On
Cuckoo’s Nest
When You Come Back Down (The Angel Song)
Jealous of the Moon
Elephant in the Corn
Somebody More Like You
Hayloft (Mother Mother cover)
The Fox

Ode to a Butterfly
Where Is Love Now


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Why Should the Fire Die?

Six years ago at the Ryman, I shot this grainy video of Nickel Creek‘s last song of their last stop of their farewell (“for now”) concert tour. (Here’s my blog post from 2007.) Their first stop of their current “reunion” tour (fulfilling the “for now” foreshadow) will also be at the Ryman.


I’ll be there.

Here’s a preview of my review: “They were great.”

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Hey, General Mills Lawyers: Better Eat Your Wheaties

products_banner_2012While I typically support efforts to add sanity to our overly-litigious culture that seems to encourage anyone to sue anybody for anything, I don’t think the lawyers at General Mills thought through the type of social media firestorm they would ignite by adding language to the company’s website alerting customers they can’t take legal action against the company if they’ve done things like download a coupon, enter a contest or, if read literally, liked on Facebook one of the company’s products, say, Cheerios or Wheaties or Macaroni Grill or Fruit Loops.

There obviously had to be a major battle between the marketers and the lawyers at General Mills before this decision was made. I say that, because the company is packed full of extremely savvy marketing people who have successfully guided some powerful brands astutely into the social media era.

I’m also thinking of what I believe to be a stellar display of content marketing,, and the incredible job the talented team who started it and has turned that site into a showpiece of customer media. Yet today, right there on the top of its homepage, it too is displaying a link to some legal language that undermines the kind of community-building finesse TableSpoon has displayed while so many others have tried and failed.

According to the New York Times, General Mills is following in the footsteps of other large companies that are trying to prevent class-action lawsuit by adding website terms of usage language that requires customers to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief over any dispute it has with the company.

Last year, the company paid $8.5 million to settle lawsuits over positive health claims made on the packaging of its Yoplait Yoplus yogurt. At the time, it said did not agree with the accusations, but wanted to end the litigation. In 2012, it settled another suit by removing the strawberry from the packaging of Strawberry Fruit Roll-ups, which did not contain strawberries, said the Times.

Hey, I’m a fan of arbitration and probably would support General Mills’ objectives in what they are trying to accomplish. Unfortunately, by overreaching the boundaries of common sense by describing the types of rights an individual gives up by “liking” a product like Cheerios on Facebook, they have opened their company to ridicule and have set back legitimate tort reform efforts.

And they’ve made lots of people not like them unnecessarily.

Posted in content, Content Marketing, Custom Media, facebook, internet, social media | 1 Comment

Sunday Afternoon Bike Ride in Nashville (photos, video)

With my bicycling friend, John Darwin, who also enjoys riding his bike in-town, I often head out on a Sunday afternoon looking for things I’ve never seen in Nashville. These days, that likely means a new real estate development or some area of town I’ve heard about, but have never seen.

As the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four is in Nashville now (the championship game is Tuesday night, April 8), we decided to include a ride by the area of downtown where events are being staged. While that was out of the usual, the other things I ran across made me feel like I was experiencing an episode of Portlandia with a southern accent.

If the gallery that’s embedded below does not show up on your screen, you can see it on Flickr.

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Amazon Dash: Reinventing the Cuecat, 2014

CueCat2Starting over ten years ago, a long-running joke on this blog has been my fascination with (and mockery of) the recurring need inventors (including those who work for huge technology companies) have to re-invent the Cuecat. For those who don’t recognize the term Cuecat as the punchline of a joke, I suggest a rapid glance at its Wikipedia entry and the wonderful one-liner by the late Debbie Barham, the comic and humor writer who said the Cuecat “fails to solve a problem which never existed.”

A couple of years ago, I referred to the repetitive reinvention of the Cuecat as the
Cuecat Conjecture, based on what must be a shared hypothesis among a small group of inventors that human beings have a primeval desire to own a personal barcode scanner they can hold up to anything in order to buy it from

cuecat-flowThe most recent Re-Cuecats have been from, itself. My November, 2011 post described the Amazon iPhone app released in 2011 called Flow (that’s still around) as an attempted Re-Cuecat. The app was met with a yawn, however, three years later, in November, 2013, Amazon ported Flow’s Cuecat feature over to an app people actually download, The Amazon App.”

With Amazon’s introduction of Cuecat-like features into apps during the past few years, the term “showrooming” has been used to describe what Amazon is actually encouraging shoppers to do with such technology: Research while shopping in a physical store, and then order from Amazon. (See, also: webrooming as a buzzword to describe the opposite of showrooming.) While showrooming sounds like something that could be done with a simple barcode or QR code scanner, the technology that started with “Flow” can also recognize photos, logos or other patterns that make up the graphics of a book cover or product packaging. Amazon is seeking to circumvent QR/bar codes as big box retailers have demanded their largest suppliers to provide unique QR/bar codes or sizes that do not match precisely Amazon SKUs. By using packaging labeling rather than standard codes, Amazon can update its databases to recognize any packaging unique to chains like Target or Walmart.

Amazon Dash

Cursor_and_Amazon_DashLast Friday, Amazon introduced the Amazon Dash, the most recent update (refresh?) of the Cuecat. At first, I was convinced that it was a belated April 1 joke, but no, the new Amazon Dash is for-real. Presently, it is an extremely niche device and is not available for purchase, it’s free (which was also the Cuecat business model). It is a device currently tied to Amazon Fresh, a grocery delivery service available now in Seattle, San Francisco and Southern California. (I’ll skip the history lesson on Web Van.)

slide2-image._V340762974_The Amazon Dash is a hand-held wand you can use to scan all of the items you need to add to a shopping list (because using an app to do that would be so, well, 2013).

The Amazon Dash clearly fits within the context of Amazon technologists’ belief in the existence of the Cuecat Conjecture (human beings have a primeval desire to own a personal barcode scanner they can hold up to anything in order to buy it from

It will also be next in line of Re-Cuecats that fail to solve a problem which never existed.

Confession: I’m beginning to cheer for the inventors.

(Thanks to my friend, Jay Graves, who convinced me the Amazon Dash wasn’t related to April Fool’s Day.)


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