Sara Watkins | 04.25 | Washington, DC
Sara Watkins :: 04.25.09 :: 9:30 Club :: Washington, D.C.
Her latest project finds Watkins on the road with her brother Sean Watkins, the guitarist and fellow vocalist from Nickel Creek, Sebastian Steinberg on bass and Don Heffington on snare drum and percussion. Sara hails from Southern California, but her sound today is all Nashville. This project ripped through gospel and bluegrass standards, John Hartford and Jimmie Rodgers songs, and threw in some Dylan and Morrissey for good measure.
At one point, Sara asked the audience to pick out a fiddle tune they wanted to hear. After many suggestions, she and the audience finally agreed on “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” which she dedicated to honorary Nickel Creek member and bassist Mark Schatz. Sean joked that Mark “loved this song,” and Sara corrected him, “No, he lives it.” She walked over and causally sang the melody to her brother, who wore a thin black tie with his untucked button down shirt, apparently needing to teach him the tune. Then, he started calling out the chords to Steinberg on bass. I furrowed my brow and wondered what to expect. She then asked Sean how he wanted to do it. “Why don’t we share the melody?” he responded. Of course, there was nothing to worry about. They did a surprisingly original take on an otherwise very standard fiddle song. These kids still bicker like brother and sister, but they play like pros.
At a mere 32 years of age, Sean Watkins has established himself as one of the strongest guitar players in the bluegrass and acoustic scene today. He picks melodies on top of chord changes, he knows his place in a band – be it as a duet with just him and his sister, or with the full band behind them – and he can rip a rock guitar solo when he needs to, but watch him take a refrain over any bluegrass song and try not to smile. I dare you. Hell, you might even laugh out loud. These two have been professional musicians the majority of their lives and it comes through in every song.
The band played a three-song encore. Sara started it with solo uke. Sean stepped in and accompanied her with a beautiful chordal melody midway through the song, and then faded back out of the spotlight and let her finish the piece alone. Then, the band rejoined the Watkins siblings and Sara asked the audience if they would rather hear a song by Morrissey or Stone Pony. It was a decisive choice for the audience and they played “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get.” They closed it out with a Tim O’Brien tinged take on Dylan’s “Forever Young.”
Again, you may not know the name Sara Watkins today, but I think that you will know it soon enough. The Watkins siblings are not alone in their journey, but they are a big part of a new generation of musicians picking up where bluegrass left off. And I, for one, am excited to see where they wind up.
Sara Watkins is on tour now, dates available here.
JamBase | Plucked Up
Go See Live Music!