Sara Watkins comes home
Singer and multi-instrumentalist to play solo show in Rancho Bernardo
“Changing strides is kind of crucial to my creative process.”
Sara Watkins isn’t lying. The Grammy-winning fiddler, songwriter and founding member of San Diego’s own Nickel Creek has parlayed her affinity for artistic diversity into an already 30-year career that shows no signs of slowing down.
Watkins was only 8 when she joined forces with mandolinist Chris Thile and her guitarist brother Sean to play bluegrass in the originally Vista-based Nickel Creek. Producing six studio albums and weathering a nearly decadelong hiatus, the trio last reformed in 2014 for their 25th anniversary.
Watkins started her solo career in 2008, taking her music in a host of new sonic directions. It also yielded three more albums, the first of which was produced by none other than Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.
Between it all, the multitalented musician and singer has thrown herself into a diverse array of other projects, from playing in indie folk quintet The Decemberists and Jackson Browne’s band to teaming with Garrison Keillor on his Prairie Home Companion show and curating a regular night with her brother (billed as The Watkins Family Hour) at the Largo club in Los Angeles.
The latter even produced its own self-titled album in 2015.
But most recently, Watkins has been playing with yet another band – I’m With Her – a bluegrass/folk/gospel “supergroup” of sorts that also boasts multiinstrumentalists Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan.
And since tour dates surrounding their Ethan Johns-produced 2018 debut, See You Around, are finally wrapping up, Watkins will once again be faced with a familiar question – what to do next?
So far, the answer is at least two upcoming solo shows (one in Thousand Oaks and one in Rancho Bernardo) that will “run the gamut” of her musical output, the appearances not so secretly designed to put the multifaceted performer in a new creative mindset. But at this point in her career, Watkins has become quite accustomed to switching artistic gears.
In fact, that’s exactly what she told her fellow band members in I’m With Her as they were preparing to take their own hiatus.
“It’s funny,” Watkins said recently from her Los Angeles home. “I was just telling Aofie and Juroz that I don’t think I have it in me to do more than one album at a time for any project. And I feel like that’s a real privilege — touring with a lot of other people, seeing how they do shows, being able to dive in as a sideman. I’ve been able to do that between each of my records. It’s such an honor. I’m so grateful that I get to play all of those parts and dig into the nuances each requires.”
In addition to the solo shows and just getting some time to spend with her nearly 2-year-old daughter, Watkins is hesitant to speculate on what her next official project will be.
But that doesn’t mean she has nothing planned.
“There are a couple of hypothetical scenarios floating around in the ether,” said Watkins with a laugh. “There are just so many moving parts. But it feels good to have at least hypotheticals flying around out there. It’s all just very lightly penciled in.”
Although the singer and songwriter is every bit as skilled as a musician as she is at giving vague answers when needed, some of those things out there in the ether are getting more attention than others.
Watkins and her brother have been writing as a duo lately — amazingly, something they’ve never done before — and there has been talk of a possible new Watkins Family Hour album on the horizon.
The pair have been “really enjoying” the process thus far and, at least to this point, are deliberately not asking any of the wild cast of musical characters that could be at their disposal to pitch in.
Then again, Nickel Creek, I’m With Her and the Family Hour are all still working bands, and Watkins doesn’t see “why there wouldn’t be” another solo record in the near future.
But for now, she’s just going to focus on the two upcoming solo shows and let the rest work itself out.
“I’ve always felt like if you’re in one band,” Watkins said, “you should be in two. It just challenges you in different ways and makes everything a bit more healthy. Right now, it does feel like it’s time to dig into some Family Hour stuff, but as it’s always worked for me, it’ll be evident when the time comes to make a record.”
When: 6:30 p.m., Aug. 25
Where: 13330 Paseo Del Verano Norte, Rancho Bernardo
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