by LYDIA COBB | photo by Maarten de Boer

Nickel Creek Returns

Sean and Sara Watkins’ musical careers were sparked a generation ago. Nickel Creek is a trio band, formed in 1989, that plays a progressive and classic blend of folk, pop, bluegrass, and rock (the name comes from a Byron Berline fiddle tune). Their fourth album, This Side, produced by Alison Krauss, won a Grammy for Contemporary Folk in 2003. So it came as a surprise to fans when the band announced a recording hiatus several years ago to focus on solo projects.

To celebrate twenty-five years, they brainstormed to produce an Extended Play (EP) release for a twenty-five-show tour. Once they got into recording mode new synergies emerged. “We found that the creative process between us wasn’t only alive and well, but that it was better and easier than it had ever been in the past,” reflected Sean. The EP morphed into Nickel Creek’s newest album, A Dotted Line, which debuted at seventy shows in their recent tour.

Born and raised in Vista (where their parents still currently live), the Watkins family enjoyed many Saturday nights at That Pizza Place in Carlsbad, where a band called Bluegrass, Inc. performed. Those band members became mentors to Sean and Sara as they began to develop their musical talents. Nickel Creek was formed when the young Watkins siblings met and performed with Chris Thile on those evenings. They got together to play at a local bluegrass festival and just kept going.

Older brother Sean mainly plays guitar, but started on mandolin. During his solo years, he collaborated on several records with Glen Phillips and other Los Angeles musicians, and Jon Foreman of Switchfoot. His recent record, All I Do is Lie, forms his winter/spring tour. And, he’s producing a record for Dominique Arciero, a notable Nashville singer-songwriter.

“Traveling around and playing music for people every night is such a privilege,” stated Sean.
“I can’t believe it’s my job sometimes,” added Sara, who plays fiddle for the band. The best part of touring, in Sara’s opinion, is presenting the songs she spent so much time on. “On the best nights, it feels like I’m hosting a really fun party,” she said.

Sara is currently writing her third record due out next summer. She and Sean enjoy their work on the monthly Watkins Family Hour Show at Hollywood’s Largo Club, a freestyle forum with visiting musicians. When back in North County, they mention their love of the ocean, laidback San Diego culture, and the chance to reconnect with family and friends here. As for touring with Nickel Creek, Sean described, “I don’t imagine it will be as long before we’re at it again.”


Name: Sara Watkins
Profession: Musician
Interests: Getting outside to enjoy the fresh air
Favorite Local Spot: The ocean


Name: Sean Watkins
Profession: Musician
Interests: Hiking, coffee, food
Favorite Local Spot: Pollos Maria in Carlsbad