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A New Path 

Fiddler Sara Watkins continues musical growth post Nickel Creek

The members of progressive bluegrass band Nickel Creek haven't been together since 2007, but the individual artists are carrying momentum from that band into their solo careers. Mandolin player Chris Thile is turning heads with his new project The Punch Brothers, and fiddle player Sara Watkins is now two albums into a promising solo career.

She was only 8 years old—that's right, 8!—when Nickel Creek formed and started playing earnest bluegrass with musicality far beyond the normal maturity of pre-pubescent artists.

Since then, the too-cute brunette has sung with The Decemberists, toured with Prairie Home Companion and, after over 20 years honing her violin craft, Watkins' skill with the instrument is equal parts fanciful and masterful.

Like Thile's music with The Punch Brothers, Watkins' solo work doesn't fall unrecognizably far from the Nickel Creek tree. The band's music never was about swinging elbows in an Appalachian square dance, and neither are the songs on Watkins' 2009 self-titled debut album or her 2012 follow-up Sun Midnight Sun. But there are subtle differences.

Her music is sweet, pensive newgrass. It includes drums and hand claps and mashes bluegrass with a bit of '60s country music. A combination she explained to The Boston Globe earlier this year, and one that would not have been possible had she stayed in Nickel Creek.

"Being in a band for that long, you start to adapt your growth to the form that's around you. And the form was Nickel Creek. So a lot of times my musicianship depended on how it could fit into the context of the band."

Watkins' music is down-to-earth and mirrors the kinds of thoughts most people have throughout the day about loved ones and other things that bring enjoyment—like a simple stroll on grassy pastures. It is perhaps the most divergent quality of her music when compared with Thile's more deliberate tackling of big dramatic themes and stories. The result is an album on par with a sun-speckled romp refreshed by a warm country breeze.

Sara Watkins

7:30 pm Thursday, May 16

Tower Theatre

835 NW Wall St.

$23 at towertheatre.org

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