Musician Chris Thile describes performing live as a ‘cathartic’ feeling

Chris Thile will perform two outdoor shows at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Oct. 10.

Chris Thile will perform two outdoor shows at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Oct. 10.

Chris Thile / Contributed photo

With four Grammy Award wins and 22 total nominations to his credit, Chris Thile has accomplished a great deal in the music world over the last three decades.

An internationally renowned mandolin virtuoso, composer and vocalist, Thile first found fame as part of the trio Nickel Creek in 1989, an Americana group that released six albums and sold more than two million records.

He also was a member of the bands Goat Rodeo and Punch Brothers, and served as host of the radio program, “Live from Here.”

Most recently, he released a double-album with Brad Mehldau, titled “Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau,” and also a collection of works from Bach with Yo-Yo Ma & Edgar Meyer called “Bach Trios.”

Thile will perform two outdoor concerts on Oct. 10 at 4 and 7:30 p.m. at the Ridgefield Playhouse, with socially-distanced seating under a tent. Keith Loria chatted with Thile about performing during the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming show.

Keith Loria: What has life been like for you since the pandemic began?

Chris Thile: It’s an incredibly nerve-wracking time for all of us and the live arts have been hit as hard as almost anyone. We’re all reeling. We’ve seen our whole schedule go up in smoke. It’s how we express ourselves, but it’s also how we put food on the table. It’s been hard. We are all suffering through this and trying to exist through it.

KL: How have you been spending your time during the pandemic?

CT: I haven’t taken any time off. Music is impossible for me to put on the back burner, and there’s always stuff simmering, boiling and splattering all over the place. I’ve been writing a ton, and made a solo record actually.

KL: What can fans expect from these two shows at the Ridgefield Playhouse?

CT: They can expect a musician who is exceedingly happy to be doing his thing in front of them! I’ve done a couple of these outdoor socially-distanced concerts and the feeling is unique in my experience as a performing musician. That feeling is so cathartic at this point. The power of live music and being in a space with fellow human beings is something we all haven’t been doing for quite a while. For me, live music should be participatory, not just for the performer, and these opportunities to be together during the pandemic are so few. So, this experience is soul clenching.

KL: Will you be playing a lot of stuff from this new solo record you mentioned?

CT: I do look forward to using these Ridgefield shows as a launch pad for some of that material. These are songs I haven’t played much before, so that will be exciting. I can’t wait to be out there in this safe and controlled environment and put on a show.

KL: You’ll be doing two shows that day. Will the set lists be similar? If fans want to attend both, will they be getting something different?

CT: I write a new set list for every show I play. There are things that I gravitate towards and common themes that run their way through. But every show is different and I always incorporate a great deal of improvisation. The nice thing about playing solo is you can chase any strand of inspiration without having to check with everyone else on stage. If all of a sudden, I’m playing a song that I’ve played 150 times, and something about the space that we’re in together and the people who are there suggests a different avenue, I can hurdle down that avenue in the middle of the song. I can step into another area and explore it for a while.

KL: You’ve been performing for most of your life and then suddenly, you were trapped at home, away from the stage. When you played your first socially-distanced show last month, what was that feeling like to be back on the stage?

CT: The last show I did pre-pandemic to the first show I did post-pandemic is probably the longest I’ve gone without being on stage since I was 8 years old. I have never felt what I felt during my first time back. It’s a brand-new feeling on stage for me. I’m still learning how to react and how to be a good master of ceremonies during one of these evenings.

KL: Any last message for those who are planning to come out to the shows?

CT: I want us all to let ourselves be hopeful in the face of everything. I hope we indulge in the audacity of the thought that change is possible, recovery is possible and that art in its many forms is a light at the end of the tunnel and a magnifying glass held up to the darkness, so we might be able to look at it objectively. This is not an evening of escape, but it is an evening of possibility.

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