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String Theory: Chris Thile Plays Solo in Dublin

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Thursday July 12, 2012

from Irish Times

Former Nickel Creek-er and ace mandolinist Chris Thile has found a new home with Punch Brothers, he tells Coramc Larkin.

The last time Chris Thile played Dublin, it was a solo show. It wasn’t meant to be that way but just hours before their duo gig at Whelan’s last September, guitarist Michael Davies had to fly back to the US for a family emergency. At that point, most musicians would have cancelled, and no one would have blamed most musicians. But Chris Thile is not most musicians.

In fact, when the news rippled through the audience that Thile would be taking the stage alone, the reaction says a lot about the mandolinist’s reputation. This, whispered one well-known Irish folk musician, is going to be even better.

And so it was. For two hours, with just eight very short strings and one microphone, Thile held a packed Whelan’s enthralled, moving easily between traditional bluegrass, his own gnarly originals and dazzling instrumentals that sent the jaws of all present dropping to the floor. As the evening went on, he even threw in a flawlessly executed Bach partita – not something you hear every day in Whelans – before calling for suggestions from the room. “Anyone want to hear some old fiddle tunes?” he asked. Shouts came up from the knowledgeable crowd and soon Thile was reeling off classic fiddle tunes on his mandolin as if he’d been rehearsing them for months.

“That was probably one of my favourite solo shows,” he tells me. Thile is in Telluride, Colorado, where his new band, Punch Brothers, have just headlined the town’s legendary bluegrass festival. “For me, music is a very urgent thing. I need music, and it feels to me like Irish people need music too. So I feel a big kinship with Irish folks. Right away, when you kick into something, you feel an intensity. You feel listened to.”

Shucks Chris. Onstage and off, Thile is all charm and self-deprecation, but it feels genuine enough. Certainly the kinship with Irish music is real – as a kid, he says he wore out a copy of Planxty’s 1973 classic, The Well Below the Valley, and he clearly appreciates the link between the Irish tradition and his own.

But the nice guy thing is for real too. Despite the immoderate critical praise and the shelf-full of Grammys, Thile is a man who seems particularly grounded, at ease with himself and the world, a feat that is all the more impressive given that fame and adulation came to him at an age when most of us are still getting to grips with solid food.

Read the full article here