Chris Thile

Artist Profile: Chris Thile

in New Music by

Chris Thile, of veteran group Nickel Creek, can be an enigma to the casual listener. His genre (that beautiful oddity known as progressive folk), his instrument (mandolin, but also, well, everything), and his day job (presenting the much-loved Prairie Home Companion) all conspire to suggest a man in his mid-50s. In fact, Thile is barely 36, but already has six albums and a nearly 10-year hiatus, not to say major movie soundtrack collaborations and a MacArthur genius grant, under his belt. He brings A Prairie Home Companion to San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall on Jan. 6.

Thile’s musical roots can be traced back to when he was just about five years old. That’s when he began playing the mandolin, with intermittent musical lessons by John Moore. A few years later, at eight, Thile joined the band Nickel Creek, which was a team effort by his family and the Watkins siblings, Sean and Sara. Together, they toured across California and performed at several bluegrass festivals in the state. At 12 – when most artists are, at best, working out how to play, he sent across a demo tape to both Sugar Hill Records and Rounder Records, with Sugar Hill releasing his first solo album Leading Off in 1993.

Along with his Grammy-winning work with Nickel Creek – and becoming the youngest MacArthur Fellow of 2012 – Chris went on to release more collections as a solo artist, including “Stealing Second” and the memorable “Not All Who Wander Are Lost,” which included guest appearances from renowned instrumentalists including Stuart Duncan, Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas, and Bryan Sutton. Chris then moved on to team up with popular mandolin artist Mike Marshall for the duet album “Into the Cauldron” and venturing into experimental music with the album Deceiver, on which he recorded each track, including the electric guitar, piano, drums, violin, viola, cello, and bass, entirely by himself. Along the way, he created the mandolin concerto – if you can imagine such a glorious, crazy idea – named “Ad astra per alas porci”, and Thile recently released his newest album “Thank You” for Listening, which opened to rave reviews praising the strength, quality and maturity of Thile’s voice.

Running parallel to his musical achievements is Thile’s association with the radio show A Prairie Home Companion. When he first appeared on the show, he was fifteen and since then, Chris has made his way back to the show several times – as a solo artist, as part of a collaboration with Nickel Creek, and together with the Punch Brothers. Eventually, a couple of times in 2015 and 2016, Chris played the guest host on the show, before becoming full-time host in 2016. Renaming the show Live From Here, Chris has steered it through the choppy waters surrounding revelations of former host Garrison Kiellor’s alleged inappropriate behavior with a colleague, and refocused it on a local, contemporary America with a thousand unexpected faces – and next week, it’s in San Francisco. Davies Symphony Hall is the venue – Thile is one of America’s most interesting artists, and he’s on stage on Jan. 6.

Chris Thile plays Davies Symphony Hall – Jan. 6, 2017 – Saturday, January 6, 2018, 2:45 PM

Photo credit: Devin Pedde

An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for and, he decided to start Music in SF™ to share his love of photography and music.

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