Saturday, April 5, 2014

best birthday present ever

Well, second best. The best ever was Terzo's birth; my water broke on my birthday. In his typical laid-back fashion, he chose not to appear until two days later. I count it as a slightly belated present, and one that will be almost impossible to top.

But tonight was pretty wonderful.

It started with my husband's discovery that one of my favorite bands, Nickel Creek, was back together. This band is an amazing collection of talented musicians: Chris Thile on mandolin, brother Sean Watkins on guitar, and sister Sara Watkins on fiddle. They have been playing together since the improbable ages of 8 (and 12 for Sean). To get an idea of their jaw-dropping talent as kids, check out Ode to a Butterfly.

We first discovered them in 2001, opening for Lyle Lovett. In their mid to late teens at the time, the kids toured with the Watkins' father playing the bass for them. Their brand of bluegrass was traditional and playful and transcendent. I was in thrall, so when they were touring on their fifth album in 2006 and came to a local college, we went to see them again. In contrast to the first time, they seemed flat and bored, and their album was a bit too angsty. They broke up soon afterwards, with no talk of it being "just a break." I resigned myself to the worst.

But lo, time passes and things change. A check of their tour calendar revealed that the stars had perfectly aligned. They were set to appear on "A Prairie Home Companion," one of my favorite NPR shows of all time, just before my birthday, at the Town Hall in NYC.

The perfect present. My kids were a bit miffed to be left out, because they are slight NPR and bluegrass nerds themselves, but it had the bonus of being a very rare date night, even if quite a bit if it was spent in NYC traffic.

The Powdermilk Biscuits sign was enough to get me all excited, and the show didn't disappoint.

Garrison Keillor was his usual dry sharp wit. His ability to riff about his home town of Lake Woebegon on the fly (no notes in sight) is a wonder to behold. The other guest singers on the show were fantastic: beautifully harmonizing voices were on plentiful display. And Nickel Creek were back to their old selves, though with an added veneer of polish and depth. They always blended well but Sara Watkins voice in particular has matured to their benefit. Not all of their new material is traditional bluegrass, but 21st of May by Sean Watkins comes very close. In addition to harkening back to much of their earlier work, it is a rollicking good tune.

It was a magical two hours, with the added benefit of being early enough in the evening that I had a chance of staying awake. My kind of concert! We even saw Garrison Keillor outside the stage door and passed along our enjoyment of the show.

This birthday present will be hard to beat.

To listen to the show, go to and click on the link near the bottom that says "Listen to the Whole Show" after 12 noon central time on Sunday April 6.


  1. Wow! Love Nickel Creek! And garrison Keillor, how great is that! Happy Birthday!

  2. Happy Birthday! You look so happy! Glad to hear you had a wonderful time. I suppose living in the South, I should start broadening my musical taste to bluegrass. I'm going to check them out. Not much salsa down here, lol!