Where Nickel Creek Ends, Watkins Family Hour Begins

Article Contributed by Joann D. Ball | Published on Friday, September 11, 2015

Sara and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek created Watkins Family Hour over a decade ago to introduce new material and explore classic folk tunes. The side project’s monthly performances at the intimate venue Largo in Los Angeles are spirited variety shows featuring unique collaborations with guest musicians. The Watkins siblings finally recreated that musical magic in the studio with regular playmates Fiona Apple, pedal steel and dobro player Greg Leisz, keyboardist Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), bassist Sebastian Steinberg (Soul Coughing) and drummer Don Heffington. Now folk and roots rock music fans around the world can enjoy 11 outstanding songs covered by the group on its self-titled debut.

The Watkins Family Hour (minus Leisz) kicked off its album release roadshow at this year's Newport Folk Festival. The caravan stopped in Chicago last month for three sold out nights at the venerable Old Town School of Folk Music.

Sara and Sean opened the final show of the stint with “Jefferson” from her solo record, before the rest of the band joined them for a delightful mix of covers, album selections, and traditional favorites. Notable highlights early in the concert included the Everly Brothers’ "You’re the One I Love,” and a beautiful version of the record’s first single “Steal Your Heart Away” by Lindsey Buckingham. A visually mesmerizing Fiona Apple sang Bob Dylan's "Tombstone Blues," and delivered an intense version of her own song “Mistake.”

"In doing shows in other cities, it's fun to exploit the local talent and meet new people," Sean Watkins said.

The first guest was Chicago-based singer-songwriter Andrew Belle whose audience friendly sound suggests Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Accordion player John Williams joined Sean Watkins and Fiona Apple on the traditional tune "In the Pines.” Later, fiddler Liz Caroll joined the Watkins siblings for a hootenanny worthy instrumental.

Bassist Steiner and drummer Heffington took their turns at the microphone in the second half of the show, and the band closed with a cover of the Grateful Dead’s "Brokedown Palace. During the two-song encore, Sara Watkins encouraged audience participation on "Long Hot Summer Day" and Fiona Apple sang a lively version of Ella Fitzgerald's "When I Get Low, I Get High." 

The Watkins Family Hour plays a handful of dates in the Southeast U.S. in September. The group resumes its monthly residency at Largo in Los Angeles on October 2. Visit www.watkinsfamilyhour.com for details about upcoming live shows and to purchase the debut release Watkins Family Hour.