Taping Recap Uncategorized

Taping Recap: Nickel Creek

Nickel Creek returned to the Austin City Limits stage Sunday, May 5 for their fourth performance over a 25-year period, in continued support for their 2023 release of fifth album, Celebrants, coming off a nine-year hiatus in releasing new material. With their debut in 1999, Terry Lickona mentioned in introducing them that “they were teenagers when they came on the show the first time,” sharing an episode from their second performance on ACL with none other than Dolly Parton. Siblings Sara Watkins (fiddle, guitar, vocals) and Sean Watkins (guitar, vocals), with Chris Thile (mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, vocals)  and Jeff Picker (bass, vocals) came onstage jumping for joy and hyping up the crowd. They began the dazzling hour with “Where the Long Line Leads,” “The Lighthouse’s Tale,” and the instrumental “Going Out…,” with Chris Thile pausing in between to reflect on their fourth visit to ACL, “We’re not teenagers anymore…” 

In title track, “Celebrants,” the band clapped rhythmically in unison, pairing that enthusiasm with whimsical licks from the mandolin, with Thile switching between the mandolin, mandola and bouzouki throughout the set. Sara Watkins wielded her fiddle with expert showmanship, with band member introductions before and after “Strangers.” Jeff Picker and Sean Watkins grounded the set with consistency and self-assurance only earned from years of growth and experience. In fact the underlying tone of the set seemed to be an introspective look at growth with a fond acceptance of where they’re currently at musically and in life, and embracing those in between moments.

The trio shared one microphone for “Water under the bridge Part 1,” with their flawless harmonies dipping and diving into low and high registers, showcasing their skillful range. Their infectious energy proved they were truly having fun onstage, which the studio audience definitely seemed to pick up on and feed off, clapping along throughout the set. 

Sara prefaced “Thinnest Wall,” with a few background notes, “We would like to address the relationship part of relationships where you’re in there dealing with all the stuff,” with the song being a look at the “beautiful monotony of the in between.” 

“To the Airport,” featured an impassioned monologue about Amy’s Ice Cream from Chris Thile, followed by a vocals-only section where the trio harmonized perfectly to a quietly intent audience. Followed by fiddle tune, “Cuckoo’s Nest,” the second half of the hour picked up in energy, leading the group to  a strong finish with “New Blood,” “Smoothie Song,” and  “The Fox,” with Sara chiming in between songs, “It’s so special to us to get to do ACL.” With that the band did a choreographed jump and bow, and walked offstage momentarily before returning to perform an encore of “When in Rome,” and “Holding Pattern.” Catch the taping of Nickel Creek later this year as part of Austin City Limits’ special 50th anniversary season. 

Nickel Creek performs on Austin City Limits, May 5, 2024. Photos by Scott Newton.

Listen to the full set list from the Austin City Limits taping below:


Chris Thile – Mandolin, Mandola, Bouzouki, Vocals

Sara Watkins – Fiddle, Guitar, Vocals

Sean Watkins – Guitar, Vocals

Jeff Picker – Bass, Vocals