Nickel Creek performer presented alumni award



Scott Thile has been an instrument technician in Murray State’s Old Fine Arts Building since 1995.

Scott has been helping his son, Chris, since he was 5 years old. Chris was a prodigy on the mandolin.

He did everything he could to help his son’s music career since he picked up the mandolin. Twenty-eight years later, at the Taste of the Arts Auction, he and his wife Kathy accepted the award for the 2014 Outstanding Alumni in Fine Arts on their son’s behalf.

Chris is known throughout the world as the mandolin player for the progressive acoustic bluegrass band Nickel Creek.

He only spent two years here at Murray State, but his father says that he got an experience here he couldn’t get anywhere else.

“Even though Chris is incredibly talented musically, he hadn’t been exposed to classical music a whole lot,” Scott said. “So he didn’t have a background to get into a high profile performance school.”

Scott said at Murray State, faculty were able to nurture him and he made progress quickly, so it ended up being a perfect environment for him. His progression could not have happened anywhere else, he said.

Chris was 16 years old when he started taking music classes at Murray State.

In Chris’s acceptance video for his award, he remembers learning how to take an academic approach to his music that he had not gotten to do before.

“All throughout my career I’ve tried to achieve the disillusion of the intuitive and academic approach to music,” Chris said in his speech. “That was all started with my time at Murray State University with the incredibly open minded professors in an environment that fostered all kinds of curiosity,”

In this environment, Chris was able to take in all sides of music. He recalls a particular class with one of his favorite professors.

“I remember sitting in classrooms listening to Dr. Brown play Dubbusey, but to hear Dubbusey with that intuitive approach,” Chris said. “He had such a liquid relationship between the intuitive and academic approach to music. All sorts of light bulbs went off in my head.”

Chris began his music career at 8 years old when his family and some friends of the family, the Watkins’, formed Nickel Creek, which included Chris on mandolin, Sara Watkins on fiddle and Sean Watkins on guitar. 

The group would go on to be successful, raking in four Grammy nominations and one win for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

Chris’ accomplishments make it clear why he was awarded the honor.

He has been successful on his own as well, winning everything from the MacArthur Genius Grant to winning two Grammys on his own, as well as being nominated and winning several other bluegrass and folk awards.

Though Chris couldn’t make it to accept the award himself, in his acceptance speech he addressed how he saw his time at Murray State and said he planned on making a return performance sometime in 2015. 

“I am so, so thankful for this award. I’m very sorry I couldn’t be there in person,” Chris said. “I have some ideas for things hopefully we can do together next year. Thank you so much, and I hope to see you very soon.”

Story by Taylor InmanStaff writer