The man behind the mandolin: Chris Thile performs at Chico State


Chris Thile performed at Laxson Auditorium, Feb. 11. Courtesy of Chico Performances

Grammy award winning singer and famed mandolinist Chris Thile performed at Laxson Auditorium on Feb. 11.

The auditorium lobby was crowded with people, most waiting in line at the pop-up bar to grab a drink before the show. There was a buzz of anticipation in the air as many longtime fans of Thiles’ bands, Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, talked in hushed tones as the lights of the theater dimmed. 

Thile wasted no time in getting right to the music, bowing quickly and then launching himself directly into a Bach-inspired mandolin solo before introducing himself to the audience.

While his opening numbers were great, the artist’s incredible talents were highlighted best during his fifth song, in which he performed “Another New World,” originally written by Josh Ritter.

Although Thile did not write the song himself, one would never guess it by his performance. He embodied the story that the song was telling with an authenticity that could be compared to a professional actor. From the raw emotion in his voice to the relentless, increasing tune of the mandolin, he drew the audience into a world of love and loss.

While most of the songs were more soulful and serious, the entire performance was mixed with a healthy balance of uplifting tunes and comically relatable stories. 

The crowd whooped and hollered as he told the story behind his song, “Elephant in the Room,” which was inspired by his family’s Thanksgiving celebration after the 2016 election. 

The lone stage looked as if it was set up for a comedian, which, in some respect, makes sense because Thile also had a knack for cracking jokes between song sets. The audience almost laughed as much as they applauded, as Thile made some self-deprecating digs at himself. 

While playing a version of a heartfelt song called “You Don’t Know What’s Going On” from Nickel Creek’s 2014 album, he smiled slyly at the crowd as he played the first few notes.

“This is probably the Nickel Creek song that people would like me to play the least,” he said. 

Thiles’ demeanor became more animated after every song. While his body was visibly taut with effort, he moved in a way that mimicked the strings of the mandolin, at one point playing so passionately that one might wonder who was really in charge: the instrument or the man. 

At the end of the night, Thile offered to take song requests from the audience, who were all too eager to oblige. 

He ended the set by playing the song “Lighthouse,” after the title was shouted by multiple individuals in the crowd. 

The audience demanded an encore while giving Thile a standing ovation, and he accommodated with a final heartfelt song during which he abandoned his microphone and instrument, instead choosing to sing from the very front of the stage. 

Thile is currently completing a U.S. tour, with tickets available through his personal website. 

 Kirstin Joyce can be reached at [email protected] or @joyce_kirstin on Twitter.