I have been following the career of mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile for over ten years now. He’s a year older than me, which means that while I was chugging beer at Ohio University, he was already on tour. I’ve seen him perform three times, as of last night, and the man never, ever disappoints.
I took along a novice as my date, and as I explained to her the wonder that is Chris Thile, she said, “I think you have a crush on him.” Oh, okay, maybe, but it’s not because he’s hot or mysterious or dark. I really have a crush on the music, and I think my girlfriend now feels the same.
The Musical Instrument Museum is a cool place to wander. There, you can see weird instruments you’ve never heard of as well as instruments played by some of your favorite musicians. The venue housed inside has been called one of the best in the world by musicians who’ve played there, and by the end of his show, Thile agreed. I do, too; he’s never sounded so good.
Chris Thile is a quirky guy. He has nice clothes, yes—well-cut, stylish, colorful suits—but he can’t tame that wonky blond hair. He dances when he’s on stage. He moves with the music like an eighties hairband head-banger. Between songs, he goes on long tangents, akin to a stand-up comedian. Last night, he even admitted: “Most of my banter doesn’t go anywhere.” Yet, the audience was not perturbed, because Thile is too charming and wide-eyed to be a nuisance.
He hit several high notes for me, including segments from his four-part suite “The Blind Leaving the Blind,” which chronicles his painful 2004 divorce. He did a Fiona Apple cover, connecting my favorite female musician to my favorite male. As if that wasn’t enough, he attacked Bach (which he described as a huge musical cube in the center of his set).
As a solo musician, I assume you worry you’ll be boring up there all by yourself, but Thile’s set list kept us glued to our seats. He jumped from classical to covers to sad songs to songs that paused in the middle due to audience hysterics (see “If You’re Gonna Leave Me Set Me Up With One of Your Friends” or, my personal favorite, “Too Many Notes”).
Thile is thankful, modest, and so comfortable on stage, you’d think he lives there. He is the epitome of a one-man show: a genius talent and an improv expert. He received three standing ovations and deserved many more.
Post show, we all stood around, hoping he’d show his face (as he did when I met him last year at Crescent Ballroom). Alas, there was no sign, so my girlfriend and I prepared to hit the road … until we walked outside. I spotted Thile, and in stiletto heels, I scampered to a parked car where I found my music crush and said, so eloquently, “Can I, like, talk to you for a second?”
We shook hands and reminisced over the Crescent Ballroom show. We talked high points of his solo tour and his upcoming reunion with his first band, Nickel Creek. I thanked him for being, well, him, and I even got my second (second!) Chris Thile hug before we separated in the night—him to dinner with his in-laws and me to a giggle fit in my car.
There is something to be said for great musicians. There is even more to be said for great musicians who are polite. They have a way of inspiring fellow artists to be the best they can be. Thile works hard, you can tell; he makes me want to work hard at my craft, too, but I hope I remember more than just that. I hope I remember to always be humble and never forget to say “thank you.”