By Ross Jones
Photography by Kendall Wilson
Walking into the Interstate Stage Tent on Saturday night of The Long Road Festival 2023, you'd be greeted by darkness.
Such darkness can only be perturbed by light, and such light tonight could only be generated by Nickel Creek; one of, if not the, most creative yet approachable groups around.
In an hour and 15 minutes, they provide the set of the weekend so far - a career-spanning performance that confounds the standard tradition of bluegrass by encompassing the emotional crux of pop sensibility for something bold, unnervingly effortless and wholly enrapturing.
It feels obscenely understated to say that the group rip on their respective instruments - not at all in a showy nature, but for celebratory and joyous purposes, as a gift to those in attendance. Straight from the frenetic Celebrants cut, 'Where the Long Line Leads', they produce something catchy and danceable - each of the trio taking a turn to deliver a creative and expansive solo within a playful five-minute cut.
Just as you think you are slinking into something jaunty and wholesome, the trio will whirl up something melodically expansive as 'Going Out...'. Vocally controlled by harmonic "ahhs", both band and crowd lose themselves in the theatrical narrative, driven on a suspenseful journey that would be positively disturbed by the spoken word.
Before long, it's the crowd's turn to participate, offering the rhythmic handclaps for the confounding reverie of their recent title track, 'Celebrants'. The trio are appreciative, frequently each taking a turn at the front of the stage to offer an equally eclipsing solo that never loses sight of its intention - to gratify in its escapism.
It's a rollercoaster when watching Nickel Creek - their songs can be expansive yet pass by in the blink of an eye, their enigmatic harmonies blessing songs that can be both super candid and vulnerable while also built around a sprawling story.
The fact they can pull off a sweeping narrative like 'The Lighthouse's Tale' and have the whole crowd either with their jaws on the floor or singing along with utmost devotion is telling of their capability in both songwriting and performing.
"It's such a beautiful vibe with that wood smoke in the air", Shaun Watkins proclaims before 'Strangers', as the smell of embers penetrates the air throughout the tent. It's both tangible and fitting... the earthy and all-encompassing smell making you feel all the more present for each new turn the group take.
"It's fun as hell camping with you this weekend!" Chris Thile declares, both the unofficial conductor and most excitable of three seemingly very content musicians. They spontaneously joke with the crowd and each other throughout the set; "You guys should look into some sheep and cows around here", Sean Watkins observes, jokingly taking in the unfamiliar greenery of the English countryside.
"Thank you for rolling with this madness", Thile offers to the - by this point capacity - crowd, as they close out with their beguiling 2000 cut, 'The Fox'. "It's a cautionary tale about owning livestock", he adds nonchalantly, before they deliver us one last final piece to leave aghast with.
It's been a busy 2023 for the immensely popular trio. They released their seventh studio album, Celebrants, in March, before heading out on a wide-reaching International and US Tour.
The band are continuing their 2023 UK tour following The Long Road Festival, playing Towersey Festival in Buckingham, before pulling up for headline shows in Manchester, Dublin and London, where they are performing at the famous Barbican theatre.
The group are also set to host a three-night residency at the Ryman Auditorium in September, with special guests including Aoife O'Donovan and Hawktail.
The band close out their 2023 touring schedule in October, headlining The Moody Theater in Austin, TX on October 21st with Monica Martin in support.
Taken from their performance at The Long Road festival in Leicestershire, UK on Saturday 26th August, 2023.
For more on The Long Road festival, see below: