The first time I saw Chris Thile play was at Merlefest in Wilkesboro, NC. He was barely 22 at the time. I was familiar with Chris only though my enjoyment of Nickle Creek’s music being played on a commercial classic rock station. Clearly, Nickle Creek was a cross-over band but these “kids” were undoubtedly destined to something more profound than Nickle Creek.
At Merlefest, Chris was playing with Mark O’Connor (Fiddle, of course), Bryan Sutton (Flat Pick Guitar), and Byron House (Bass), performing cuts from Mark’s 30 year Retrospective project. The set was played on the Americana Stage and the attendance was packed. I think I watched this set with my jaw agape at what I was experiencing and hearing. This wasn’t Nickle Creek. It wasn’t bluegrass. It was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed before. It was so ethereal, perfectly executed, high energy, mesmerizing and enthralling. Even at that early stage of his life, Chris Thile had proven his mastery to be tapped on the shoulder by veteran virtuoso Mark O’Connor to contribute to his 30 year retrospective of his works.
Chris’ recent band configuration is found with the Punch Brothers. With this band, Chris has gathered 4 of the top “20-30 something players” on the circuit to deliver something altogether new and exciting. What looks like a Bill Monroe quintet with Chris Thile (mandolin), Gabe Witcher (fiddle/violin), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Eldridge (guitar), and Paul Kowert (bass), these master musicians take the traditional instruments and improvisation characteristic of bluegrass and meld it into the structures of classical and chamber music. Make no mistake, this is a super group in the true sense of the term with each contributing to the whole and as a whole become a cohesive unit of pure intelligent sounds.
Since my first introduction, Chris Thile has gained a reputation as an innovator and genre bending musician who is taken the mandolin to heights previously unimagined. He has been nominated and has won a Grammy award.
At 31, Chris Thile's genius is being recognized in one of the most prestigious ways. On October 12, 2012, Chris Thile won the MacArthur Foundation's 2012 ‘genius grant’. This award raises Chris above the prodigy, virtuoso designations that have defined his career to a "certified genius" status.
He stands proud among 23 recipients of this prestigious honor in 2012.
Each year, the MacArthur Foundation awards multiple $500,000 grants to creative individuals from a variety of disciplines based on demonstrated originality and dedication to their specific talents. Recipients are not aware of their nominations prior to receiving the call informing them of their award. According to the MacArthur Foundation “there are three criteria for selection
of Fellows: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.” Once a recipient has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, they have complete freedom to use their award to fulfill their life’s dreams.
Chris Thile actually ignored the anonymous phone calls for a bit, thinking it was either a possible scam or a creative way to ask him to participate in someone’s project. It wasn’t until his manager traced the name and number to the MacArthur Foundation, that Chris began to realize the implications of the call. How Chris will use this award remains to be seen but Chris is a change maker who will leave his mark of infinity on the music world. This award recognizes his potential for major contributions in his lifetime and provides him with a little bit of money to make things happen.
Congratulations, Chris Thile - you deserve the recognition for what you have accomplished and for what you will accomplish.