Winter Arts Preview: Punch Brothers

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Nickel Creek was known for blasting open the boundaries of what a bluegrass band could be. So it's no surprise that when the group disbanded three years ago, driving force Chris Thile continued to expand his music's scope.

In response to his painful divorce, the mandolin maestro crafted a 40-minute, four-movement suite called "The Blind Leaving the Blind" that blended bluegrass and classical music in unforeseen ways. Riffs prim, proper and porcupine-sharp give way to loose, twangy passages and nimble bumblebee plucks. It's the most virtuosic do-si-do you've ever hoed down to.

Thile rounded up an all-star team of fellow heartbroken young lads to perform his opus - session man Gabe Witcher on violin, in-demand banjo player Noam Pikelny, Chris Eldridge of the Infamous Stringdusters and the Seldom Scene on guitar and Greg Garrison (later replaced by Paul Kowert) on bass.

After a few name changes, the lineup settled on Punch Brothers in tribute to the Mark Twain story Punch, Brothers, Punch! Debut Punch, featuring Thile's epic composition plus some shorter selections, cemented the band as one of music's brightest creative forces, a beacon of fun in a hybrid genre that could have been stodgy and academic.

With work underway on a follow-up, the Punch Brothers come to the historic Lincoln Theatre to serenade broken hearts the night before Valentine's Day.