The Punch Brothers have been a favorite of mine for a few years, so when I discovered they’d be playing just a couple hundred miles away in Music City, I immediately jumped at buying tickets. For living so close (it’s only about 3 hours with minimal traffic), we have spent little to no time in Nashville, and neither of us had been to the Ryman, so it was an even bigger incentive to make the journey. I say this because when Chris Thile walked on stage, the first thing he said was, “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” and so have we.
I was impressed with how roomy and yet intimate the Mother Church was. With pews for seats, you quickly get neighborly with the folks around you, but I think that adds to the experience. Brooklyn-based Michael Daves opened for Punch Brothers, which was fitting as he has worked closely with Chris Thile. Most of the theater was already filled for Daves, and he received booming applause from the audience upon closing his set. As the “leading light of the New York bluegrass scene,” Daves’ one-man act set the stage for what was going to continue to be a musically profound night at one of the country’s historic landmarks.
Hands down, Chris Thile is a musical genius. For those who are unfamiliar, Thile has been a master of the mandolin since before his age hit double digits. During the show, the constant chills made me think about just how talented Thile is. When I then thought of how many collective times Aubrey and I have seen him perform, it’s pretty incredible. He was at ROMP in 2012 and 2013 with Punch Brothers. In 2014, Aubrey saw him at Forecastle with Nickel Creek, while I caught them later that summer at Greyfox. And this is the first of two times we’ll see him with Punch Brothers this year, as the group returns to ROMP at the end of June. What stuns me even more is the added brilliance that every other member of the band brings to the table. The current members of Punch Brothers have worked together since 2008, although most of them have also worked simultaneously on other projects. Fiddler Gabe Witcher, banjoist Noam Pikelny, guitarist & singer Chris Eldridge, and bassist Paul Kowert all shine on stage, even next to the prodigious Chris Thile.
Throughout last Friday’s show, each musician spun a symphonic story that kept the audience on the edge of our seats. A few stood up to dance, most tapped their toes or nodded their heads, but everyone was enraptured with the truly amazing performance at the Ryman. It was exciting to be a part of the largest hard ticket show that the band has played, especially as it was one of the first to kick off this year’s North American tour. I expect their upcoming return to ROMP to blow me away yet again.