Haven’t Missed a Beat

Nickel Creek Reunion in CharlottesvilleSeven years after their “Farewell for Now” tour in 2007, Nickel Creek – the precocious bluegrass child prodigies who’ve grown into some of the best progressive string band musicians of this or any generation – reunited this year for their 25th anniversary tour.

You may ask how a band with players in their early-to-mid-30s has a 25th anniversary tour.  Well, mandolin mad man Chris Thile was nine when the band first formed, and neither of the Watkins siblings were teenagers back in 1989.

It doesn’t really matter.  I’m just glad they’ve come back together for this tour.  And I was thrilled to see this group of talented musicians – anchored by veteran bass player Mark Schatz – last evening in Charlottesville.

I was at the downtown mall pavilion for the 2007 farewell tour…and I was at the same place for the reunion last evening.  If you don’t believe me, I have the t-shirts to prove it!

Nickel Creek Farewell Tour t-shirt from 2007

Nickel Creek Reunion Tour t-shirt

In addition to the reunion tour, Thile, fiddler Sara Watkins, guitarist Sean Watkins, and Schatz released a new CD entitled A Dotted Linetheir first in eight years. Last evening’s show was equal parts material from the new album and old fan favorites.

With Rest of My Life, the opening tune from the new album, I was reminded last night about how different this band is than Thile’s other major project, The Punch Brothers. Nickel Creek has always been about songs – not just players with amazing chops playing incredibly complex tunes. Nickel Creek has chops aplenty, as seen with the terrific instrumentals they played in Charlottesville. The band ripped through Scotch and Chocolate, The Smoothie Song, and Ode to a Butterfly – all well-known pieces from their canon that elicited roars of delight from the crowd within the first three or four notes. But in the songs they picked from A Dotted Line as well as from earlier albums, they reminded us all that they have great musical tastes and an interplay that can only come from growing up together.

Nikckel Creek Reunion Tour in Charlottesville

There were many highlights from the 90 minute+ show.  Besides the opener, other tunes from the new album that were favorites included Sean’s 21st of May about the rapture that never came; the instrumental Elephant in the Corn (which featured Thile’s introduction about how their naming of instrumentals had improved with the time off – so much so that this song has its own shirt, which I also have); and the rocker/murder ballad Hayloft (with the lyrics, “My daddy’s got a gun, you better run…” you can guess the subject matter). Thile has described Hayloft as like a “Gatorade shower” on the listener, and reviewers note that in the hands of Nickel Creek  this oddity becomes a romp with chops.

Oh, what the heck.  There’s a great video of this song from last week’s show at the Ryman Auditorium.  Take a look if you want some fun.

There was also plenty from the band’s earlier albums to delight long-time fans. It was so good to hear When You Come Back Down, This Side, and – of course – The Fox to wrap up the set.  When Thile started that familiar mandolin chop, the crowd exploded.

So, to wrap this up, let’s have one video from the new album, the Sara Watkins tune Destination.

And for old times sake, let’s give another listen to the version of The Fox from Merlefest, where Claire and I heard this version live.  A true signature tune that never grows old.


More to come…





Beautiful Stockholm

Church in the old city of Stockholm March 2014Our trip to Scandinavia last month ended with Andrew joining Candice and me for four days in Stockholm.  While Claire (who had to head back to school) visited the city a couple of years ago, it was the  first time for the three of us.

We were not disappointed.

Candice had booked us in a small boutique hotel in the heart of the old city, just steps from the Royal Palace and the Cathedral.  That proved to be a perfect launching point for our explorations.

We knew we wanted to follow-up on our visit to the design museum in Copenhagen with a visit to the Swedish design museum. After walking over to an adjacent island (see Andrew and Candice on the bridge, with the Cathedral and Royal Palace in the background), we spent the better part of a day at the design museum and adjacent modern art museum, Moderna Museet.  


Andrew and Claire in Stockholm March 2014

We were all enthralled with Blockholm – The Fantastic City, a project where everyone was invited to rebuild Stockholm using the Minecraft computer game. The Moderna Museet collection was strong, and we loved the outdoor sculpture, including the orange tree in The Fantastic Paradise and Calder’s The Four Elements.

Stockholm, Orange Tree, March 2014

Calder's The Four Elements, March 2014

Stockholm is a city defined by water, and there were great views everywhere we turned.

Stockholm City View March 2014

Stockholm Cathedral and Palace from the Water March 2014

Stockholm Cityscape from the Water March 2014

The old city, with its small, winding streets and unexpected views was a photographer’s delight, where landmarks such as the beautiful German Church were seemingly around every other corner.

Old City Street March 2014

German Church in Stockholm March 2014

German Church Yard March 2014

The Cathedral (known as the Church of St. Nicolas), just up the hill from our hotel, was a presence every time we stepped out our door and every quarter-hour when the bells chimed to remind us of the passing of time.  The beautiful interior featured a magnificent statue of St. George slaying the dragon.

Stockholm Cathedral March 2014

Cathedral Bell Tower March 2014

Nave in Stockholm Cathedral March 2014

Stockholm Cathedral, St. George and the Dragon, March 2014

We did museums throughout our time in Stockholm, including the Royal Palace and the Nobel Prize museum. On our last day in Stockholm we crossed to another part of the city to visit the Vasa Museum.  The Vasa – a wooden war ship – sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 and was raised in 1961.  Inside the museum is the conserved and restored ship, along with incredible exhibits about the men and women of Vasa and the 1600s in Sweden.  I haven’t been this amazed in a historical museum in quite some time.  And if the ship itself wasn’t enough, the last room contains an incredible permanent exhibit labeled Meantime, which provides a look at what was happening all around the world at the time the ship sank.  There is a reason this is the museum with the highest visitation in Stockholm.

Vasa Top Deck March 2014

Stockholm Vasa Museum March 2014

Stockholm Vasa Detail March 2014

Andrew at the Meanwhile Exhibit March 2014

After ten days in Scandinavia, it was tough to come home, but we’ll always remember being able to check off a bucket list trip with Andrew and Claire. Priceless!

More to come…



Savor Every Precious Moment

Bobby Jones Grave in AtlantaI’m going to interrupt my string of posts about our wonderful Scandinavian adventure to insert this short grab bag of recent experiences that have made me laugh, think, or cry (or more accurately in most of these cases: chuckle, pause, or tear up).  Because, in the words of that great philosopher Jimmy Valvano:

If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.

So let’s gets started.

Since it is Masters week in Augusta, where better to begin than the grave of Bobby Jones in Atlanta’s beautiful and historic Oakland Cemetery.  I was in Atlanta last weekend for work, and we toured the cemetery…along with many other historic sites in the city. I’m sure the number of golf balls at the foot of Jones’ grave are much higher this week, as some Masters fans make the pilgrimage to Oakland every year.  But that interesting funerary art isn’t want caught my eye.  No, I soon realized that no matter where I was, Bobby Jones was always described as “The greatest amateur golfer ever.”  Exact same words every time. No quibbles from this group. Similarly, whenever the death of Margaret Mitchell (of Gone With the Wind fame) was mentioned, she was always run over by an “Off-duty taxi driver.”  Never just a taxi driver, but an “off-duty” hack.  I laughed after hearing the pattern for the fourth or fifth time, but I got to wondering how certain phrases become ingrained in our lexicon. Oh well…just a quirk of the Georgia Piedmont, I suspected.

And while we’re thinking about quirks and Georgia…take a look at this (because of what I’m about to write, I’m sparing the poor couple’s faces):

Georgia Tech Wedding

As we pulled up outside our hotel late last Saturday afternoon, this Georgia Tech wedding party was disembarking from the “Ramblin’ Wreck.” It does beg the question: How does the lovely bride step down gracefully from the rumple seat of a Model A Sport Coupe?  The answer:  Not easily. But that’s not what I want to write about.

No, I thought it would be fun to remind my bride of our own wedding some 32 years ago.  When Candice and I were married, I was in graduate school at Georgia Tech.  So I quickly took this shot and emailed it to Candice – with copies to Andrew and Claire – and asked “Why didn’t we think of this?”

Claire was speaking for her mother and brother, I believe, when she shot back her succinct take on the proceedings:  “So tacky.”  Gee, and I thought it looked like fun.  Oh well, I now have the perfect rejoinder in the future when Claire calls to tell me that she has decided to get married at the Pomona Country Club College campus.  I’ll just blissfully reply, “So tacky.”

Topic #3 has a similar Yellow Jacket theme (and I’ve added this since the original post, after remembering that I wanted to include this encounter as well):

While we were in Georgia, our group of friends and supporters went to Athens on Sunday for a terrific day of tours of some of the restored homes in the city’s historic district. The final event was at the home of the president of the University of Georgia – a beautifully restored antebellum mansion – and I was asked by our staff to make the final remarks.  So when I stood on the beautiful main stairway, I began with something like this:

It is great to be in Athens today at this beautiful home, to thank our hosts and our guests.  Our staff doesn’t quite understand the nuances of Georgia politics, so they thought it would be fine for a Georgia Tech graduate to have the final word at the home of the president of the University of Georgia…

That elicited a lot of laughter, and the comment from the crowd, “Well, now you’ve really lowered our expectations!”  But I continued bravely on, and in the middle of my remarks, I thanked legendary Georgia football coach Vince Dooley – who is a lover of history and a traveler on our National Trust Tours.

I want to thank Coach Dooley for joining us here this evening.  I understand he’s joined at least one of our members on a National Trust Tour recently, and I, for one, am glad that he’s moved from football to history.  My memories of Coach Dooley go back to the “Run Herschel Run” days…and they aren’t very pleasant.

More laughter.

But I have to say, Vince Dooley was so gracious and warm afterwards.  It was a real treat to meet such an accomplished gentleman.

On to topic #4.

Yesterday, I was reminded on a Daily Kos blog post that Kurt Vonnegut died seven years ago yesterday.  And the writer wanted to remind us why he was…well…Kurt Vonnegut.

True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.

Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.

Plato says that the unexamined life is not worth living. But what if the examined life turns out to be a clunker as well?


Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’

Topic #5.

Thursday I skipped out of work early to catch the Nats and Marlins playing in a rare 4:05 start.  As I was leaving, I told my boss that I had an appointment with an ENT the next day, in part because, “My wife says I don’t hear too well anymore.”  She replied, “Well I think you hear just fine.  You know, selective hearing is a documented phenomenon.”  We both laughed, and I forgot about it, until I was in the chair at the ENT’s office yesterday afternoon.  After pleasantries (and catching up on Candice’s recovery from her concussion some two years ago), Dr. Picken asked why I was there.  I told her, in part because “My wife says I don’t hear too well anymore.”  She just smiled and asked me, “Does anyone else think your hearing has deteriorated?”  So I remembered my boss’ comment, and relayed that.  She said, “Your boss is right.  Selective hearing is a documented phenomenon, and it almost always happens in conjunction with our families.” Whoops. I had to laugh…and I’m soooo glad Candice laughed when I relayed the story to her.

I promise to work on that paying attention thing, dear.

Final topic.

I was in the line at the pharmacy this morning, waiting to drop off a prescription.  A mom with a set of boy-girl twins was in front of me, with the children in their two-seater stroller.  (The heavy equipment phase of child-rearing, as we used to describe it.)  The kids were beautiful, and they were having the most wonderful conversation about shoes.  The mom was so patient and kind.  It was a joy to simply stand there and watch the love.

After passing along their prescription, the mom gathered her things to leave.  I asked about the twins age.  She replied that they were two-and-a-half.  I smiled, and said I had 21-year old boy-girl twins, and this brought back lots of memories.  The mom asked if I had any advice.  I replied simply, “Savor every moment.”

More to come…


If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jimvalvano358463.html#u9HK9qKE7DHWw1YR.99
If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jimvalvano358463.html#u9HK9qKE7DHWw1YR.99

Planes, Trains…but no Automobiles

Copenhagen Bike CounterUnlike their American counterparts, European cities are known for their many transportation options. Copenhagen and Stockholm fit this pattern, and we tested it all during our recent trip to Scandinavian.

With our family’s interest in preservation and urban planning, we headed into these cities with exploration in mind.  Andrew, after just six weeks in the country, knew Copenhagen like the back of his hand. So we had an expert guide for our first week.

What did we find?

First, Copenhagen knows how to make bicycles part of a real transportation network.  One-third of the city bikes to work, and with dedicated signals and lanes with curbs, they make it very easy for everyone.  The picture at the top of the post is a cycle counter that clocks thousands of daily bike trips across a busy bridge in the center of the city. Copenhagen residents also “dress for the destination, not for the trip” – meaning that they wear regular clothes instead of spandex when jumping on their bikes.  One of the great websites we found while in the city is Copenhagencyclechic.com, which posts pictures of stylish city residents on their bicycles. Andrew and Candice took a tour on bikes one afternoon and had a ball seeing the city at the pace of a two-wheeler.

Second, we tried every type of train imaginable over the course of our ten days overseas and enjoyed them all.  The U.S. is really missing out. High speed to Stockholm. Regular rail to Roskilde. Subways in both cities.  Light rail to get to the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. And the great thing about our experience? All the trains, buses, and other public modes of transportation are easily connected and accessible by the same ticket.

Third, Stockholm has the coolest subway stations I’ve ever seen.  Cut out of the bedrock, these tunnels are painted to turn them into wonderful pieces of art. Take a look below to see for yourself.

Stockholm Subway

Stockholm Subway Art

Stockholm Subway Train Station

One final thing we found out on this trip…once we stepped out of our taxi at Dulles airport, we didn’t have to step into another automobile until we arrived home.  Now that’s the sustainable way to travel!

More to come…