The opening song of Nickel Creek’s Spoleto Festival USA show, “Celebrants,” equates the idea of gathering as worship, a social space as a cathedral.
“My God, it’s good to see you/Right here in the flesh,” Chris Thile sang as the first words from the stage.
On a cool night for May 31, amid the gnarled trees and hanging moss of the College of Charleston’s Cistern Yard, it’s not a tough leap to make.
It’s almost as if the venue might have been designed, all those years ago, for a band like Nickel Creek. And any downsides — the humidity, bugs, subpar viewing angles — faded away in the wash of the band’s virtuosic playing.
Thile’s mandolin, Sara Watson’s fiddle and brother Sean Watson’s guitar made a remarkable blend. The shared ranges of their instruments often smoothed together in invisible junctures that left the melody player a mystery, if only for a moment.
Granted, the musicians weren’t in danger of ascending through the clouds. There were several false starts and a few sour chords, but they didn’t distract from the experience as much as heighten it. With the false ceiling of the Cistern’s canopy, there was already a striking sense of intimacy. A few mistakes and some charismatic crowd work only added to the feeling of sitting in on a Nickel Creek living room session.
Strong lighting choices did a lot to dress up the otherwise low-tech show, with flashes on beat for “Hayloft” and a spotlight spinning a beam through the trees on “Lighthouse.” However, the backlights were a bit strong. It seemed a steady Charleston breeze thinned the work of the fog machines before they could diffuse the house-aimed LEDs.
After a blazing rendition of the traditional folk song “The Fox,” Nickel Creek returned for an encore that ended with “When You Come Back Down.” The slow, wide-eyed love song might seem like an interesting closer at first, but it’s one of their most popular tunes.
But the real reason, or a happy coincidence, is that it made for a beautiful bookend to “Celebrants.” The crowd didn’t want to see Nickel Creek go, but the opening words of the song made it a bit easier.
Thile closed by saying, “You got to leave me now, you got to go alone/You got to chase a dream, one that’s all your own.”
IF YOU WANT TO GO: Nickel Creek sold out its June 1 show. Snippets of songs can be caught on the air near the Cistern Yard free of charge.
Desi Gillespie is an arts journalism graduate student at Syracuse University.
Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
Featured Local Savings
Love Best of Charleston?
Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.