Sean Watkins took to the stage with his guitar and wished the audience a “Happy New Year,” while Sara picked up her ukulele and wondered how late into January it was appropriate to remark on the new year. The first song, played as a duo, was one written by Bobby Darin and Woody Harris, “Early in the Morning.” Upon finishing they introduced the talented Tristan Clarridge, who joined them on cello. Tristan has previously graced the Largo stage as a guest of the Watkins Family along with his band The Bee Eaters. This gentleman plays music like it is second nature and it was such a pleasure to see him add his expertise in accompaniment to the Watkins Family. Tristan and Sean kicked off a long intro that evolved into Sean’s tune “Don’t Say You Love Me” from his album All I Do is Lie. Following the song, Sean commented that that song refers the end of a relationship in which you get “dumped because they thought you were cheating on them, but you weren’t, but after they still want to be real good pals.”
Sara told a story about Nickel Creek‘s first real concert that wasn’t at a pizza place or a bluegrass festival, but at the Wild Animal Park in Escondido, CA. This is where she heard the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band playing “Mr. Bojangles.” A quick search of the Internet reveals this concert took place on July 3, 1986. As a young girl, Sara said she felt compelled to read more about Mr. Bojangles and was fascinated by the song and wanted to learn it. She then sang a faithful rendition of the song for the Largo audience with Sean and Tristan accompanying.
A regular guest at Largo, musician Tom Brosseau was then welcomed to the stage. He remarked that he “got a little nervous backstage,” before telling the story of unsuccessfully sharing Elvis Presley’s song “One Night With You” with a girl when he was a teenager. Tom started playing solo on guitar, but the guitar was not in tune and instead of re-tuning, he borrowed a spare one. He played a classic song originally performed by The Ink Spots, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” which was beautifully suited to his voice and style. Sean then joined him on stage. They announced that they were collaborating on recording a selection of Carter Family songs and played one for us called, “My Texas Girl.” Tom exited the stage after this number and Sara and Tristan returned, joined by Benmont Tench on piano and Sebastian Steinberg on bass.
They immediately introduced Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket, who joined in with harmony on the Sam Phillips song, “Where is Love Now?” — Nickel Creek recorded that one on their album A Dotted Line. I enjoyed watching Glen perform with Sean and Sara as Glen appeared so comfortable with them. He left the stage after the song finished but popped back on to tell a clean joke as everyone took a moment to tune, “Two muffins are in an oven. The first says, ‘Is it hot in here?’ The second responds, ‘Talking muffins!'” The band then played Sara’s song “One Last Time” from her album Young in All the Wrong Ways.
Sean thanked Tristan for coming and Tristan told a story about shoveling rocks off the road (due to the rainstorms we’ve been having) on his way down to Los Angeles from northern California. Sean introduced the next song as being about, “Coming out from any rocks we might be hiding under.” They played his song “Where You Were Living” from his album What to Fear.
The next guest of the evening was introduced as Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene made his appearance. He remarked, “Any romantic loves rain.” He performed his band’s song “Sweetest Kill” from Forgiveness Rock Record. He played on the Largo piano alongside Benmont Tench, who played some accompaniment on the upper keys, which Kevin was particularly happy about. One of my favorite things about these Watkins Family Hours is seeing different musicians get to perform together and how the band arranges a song, which might be quite different than the recorded version, as was the case on this one. After the song, Kevin expressed his appreciation to the audience and noted, “I’m glad you are here — a lot of people said they were going to move to Canada, but you’re still here. We need you.” He went on to play one of his songs he called “Announcement.” He shook hands with all the band members on the way out, comparing that action to a wedding receiving line.
The band followed with some instrumental tunes, a fiddle tune in G, “Stony Point,” and “Back Up and Push.” They spoke to how difficult it can be to find out or remember the names of some of the fiddles tunes. Sara added how it has gotten easier since discovering the Tunepal app, which shows the user a percentage of how close to which song you are from what you’ve played. Sean and Tristan then played a cover of one of Glen’s songs, “Back on My Feet,” which is Sean recorded for his album What to Fear.
Glen then returned to the stage along with Sara and Sebastian. Glen introduced his song “Baptistina” from his album Swallowed by the New by stating, “Times of great change can yield wonderful things.” I’ve borrowed part of a line from this song’s lyrics to use as the title of this post, “A change of plans, one chapter opens as another ends, so we begin.” Glen introduced his next song, “Grief and Praise” from the same album, by speaking about Martin Prechtel and how after he read the book The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise it “made my mind vibrate for months on end.” It was interesting to hear the interpretation of this song from the group of musicians on stage, particularly Benmont’s piano flourishes.
Sean dedicated the final song of the evening, there was to be no encore, to “Barry O.” The Watkins Family performed Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” A succinct evening of song, packed full of musical guests, we were released into the damp night feeling slightly elevated by the shared experience of music and brushed with bit of nostalgia.