The Punch Brothers ready to hit the Snow Park stage
July 3, 2014
Back in 2006, the Grammy Award-winning bluegrass trio Nickel Creek announced it was taking time off.
The group’s mandolinist and vocalist Chris Thile put together a band to work with on his solo album "How to Grow a Woman."
The new group, which was then known as the strangely named How to Grow a Band, consisted of guitarist Chris Eldridge, fiddle player Gabe Witcher and banjoist Noam Pikelny.
After a couple of name changes, the band became known as the Punch Brothers and, after releasing its debut album, "Punch," added bassist Paul Kowert.
Back then, the Punch Brothers’ main goal was to play different genres of music acoustically, said Eldridge during a phone call to The Park Record from his home in Brooklyn, New York.
"The band was and still is Thile’s brainchild," Eldridge said. "In the beginning, he gathered us and wanted to lasso formal music, classical music with folk music, the tradition we all came from, and meld them together in a, hopefully, integrated way.
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"As time has gone on, we have discovered that a lot of our favorite music is just music that doesn’t just affect your head," he said. "It affects your body and your heart."
The Park City Institute will present the Punch Brothers as part of the St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights Concert Series at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Amphitheater on Monday, July 6. The music will begin with folk singer Willie Watson at 7 p.m.
Eldridge said the Punch Brothers changed their musical goals gradually over the past few years. That was mainly due to the pressure Thile felt after Nickel Creek announced its hiatus.
"At this point, we have less of an agenda than we did when we first started out,’ Eldridge said. "We originally played music that was more demanding of us as well as the listener. And we went from being an ambitious group that creates something kind of new to realizing we want to play the stuff that gets your shoulders and feet grooving."
That doesn’t mean the band members won’t dazzle the audience with its technical abilities.
"These days, when it comes to playing a live show, we try to sneak the vitamins in the cake," Eldridge said. "Sure, we will get our fancy stuff in there, but more than anything, we’ll just try to have a great experience with the band and audience."
Eldridge, who was a founding member of the award-winning bluegrass group The Infamous Stringdusters, had to step up his game when he first joined the band.
"There was such a high technical bar and technical level that was being demanded," he explained. "My bandmates are still truly unbelievable and truly the best in the world at what they do and just being in the band is a great inspiration and it’s something that made us all work hard to keep up with each other.
The change in focus was a challenge and helped each band member develop as musicians and performers, Eldridge said.
"As time has gone on, I think we’ve all grown up a bit," he said. "We found that being impressive is a lot less desirable and not really where it’s at. It’s about being communicative.
"Going through that growth together has been a powerful experience," Eldridge said. "We’re all learning these lessons at the same time."
Changing musical focus is something Eldridge knows. When he was a child, he wanted to play the electric guitar.
"I loved Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson," he said. "In fact, Eric Johnson was the guy who got me started when I was 10."
Plugging in was something that attracted Eldridge.
"My dad [Ben Eldridge] was in a pretty well-known bluegrass band called the Seldom Scene and I grew up immersed in the world and surrounded with a bunch of great musicians in the bluegrass world, but I wasn’t interested in that kind of music," he said with a laugh. "I mean, who wants to do what your parents do, right?"
A few years later, Eldridge changed his mind when he heard bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice.
"I had a ‘Eureka moment when him," Eldridge said. "Tony was a family friend that I basically took for granted, but after sitting down and really listening to him, I began to understand and saw the beauty of acoustic music in all its glory.
"It was like a tectonic shift and all of a sudden I wanted to play the acoustic guitar," Eldridge said. "There was something that appealed to me about acoustic music and the underlining rhythmic current from a band that doesn’t have drums."
The Punch Brothers’ concert at Deer Valley will feature some of the band’s classic songs, and some fresh tracks that will be featured on a new album that will be released early next year.
"We are working on a new Punch Brother’s record and we’re almost done," Eldridge said. "I think we might play some of the new material, but we don’t want to play too much, because we don’t want to let the cat out of the bag."
The Park City Institute will present the Punch Brothers as part of the St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights Concert Series on Monday, July 6, at 7 p.m. Folk singer Willie Watson will open the show. Tickets range from $40 to $75 and are available by call 435-655-3114 or by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.
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