Punch Brothers hit Boone
Master mandolinist Chris Thile is a busy man these days.
A year and a half ago, he was awarded the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, an honor that includes a prize of $500,000 given out over five years.
Thile is also about to tour with a reunited Nickel Creek, a band he formed 25 years ago with Sara and Sean Watkins, with a new album due on April 1. And he is performing one-man shows where he brings to life the music of Bach on the mandolin.
Amidst all of these projects is his musical home base, Punch Brothers, which will perform at Appalachian State University’s Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts Wednesday, March 19.
The concert begins at 7 p.m., and tickets are $12 for students in advance and $18 at the door for the public.
Punch Brothers is made up of some of the best musicians of their generation. The band includes Thile on mandolin, Noam Pikelny on banjo, Chris Eldridge on guitar, Paul Kowert on bass and Gabe Witcher on fiddle.
Thile enjoys the variety that his career affords him at present, as he goes from the dynamics of performing solo to the truly collaborative effort that is Punch Brothers.
“The interesting thing about playing solo is there is no one to engage you except for the crowd, where if you are playing with a band like the Punch Brothers, you can engage your band mates,” Thile said. “Sometimes, you need to remind yourself to engage with the audience with a solo performance, unless you are looking for a pretty solitary experience. I like having contrasts in my musical life. It’s fun, sometimes, to go up there and see what you can make by yourself with the help of an audience. And it is really amazing to open yourself up to, in the Punch Brothers’ case, four other musicians whom I love and respect and trust implicitly.”
Since the group’s inception in 2006, Punch Brothers has grown as a unit and individually as entertainers.
“We did a show not long ago, and all night I was onstage feeling very lucky to be able to make music that I enjoy with people I enjoy,” Thile said. “I think the Punch Brothers is all about that. It’s a very communal musical experience, and I think we’re getting better at inviting the audience to become members of the band, members of our little fraternity. We feel like we’re brothers at this point.”
Punch Brothers is an open-minded, highly talented group of artists who can go way out on a limb when it comes to exploring progressive new acoustic sounds. But each member also came up playing bluegrass, and those traditions still inform the music underneath.
“I just don’t really hear the difference much (between progressive and traditional music),” Thile said. “What makes it bluegrass for one person? Is it the sound of a banjo rolling and a mandolin chopping and a bass playing two beat and a guitar hitting a G-run? Is that what makes it bluegrass? Because you can find any of those elements in other music and formulate it in very similar ways, ways that are very related. The veneer of it may be very recognizable traditional bluegrass, but what makes a song tick is going to be different from that. It’s going to be how the melody relates to the chords, relates to the rhythm, relates to the structure of the tune.
“What I’m interested in is good music. That is what I really love. I was raised with bluegrass, and I absolutely adore the good bluegrass that I know. (With Punch Brothers), we listen to bluegrass voraciously on the bus. There is this Stanley Brothers gospel record that we’ve been listening to on occasion, where the singing is so gorgeous. So, I guess my only point is that for me, it all doesn’t seem that different to me.”
Punch Brothers will perform March 19 at ASU’s Schaefer Center, located at 733 Rivers St. Singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan will open. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.theschaefercenter.org/tickets.