A spider web is a natural paradox. It's stronger than steel, relative to its size, and yet it's more elastic. Can genres of music can be thought of the same way? Coming down from Bill Monroe and his lineage, bluegrass was never stronger but also pretty rigid. His inheritors tend to be the least flexible. In the hands of explorers like David Grisman, bluegrass has been deconstructed to a degree at which it might not be recognized as bluegrass anymore. If there's a practitioner who most resembles a spider web, who challenges the tradition without dismantling it, it might be Chris Thile.
The former frontman for Nickel Creek was evidently stunned to be so well-received by Spoleto fans this week. "Thanks to those people who thought this was a good idea," he said at the end. "We did." The rest of us did too. It's really not that surprising to find Thile on a Spoleto bill. Especially after witnessing his latest creation, The Blind Leaving the Blind. It's a long work, perhaps too long for purists. But draped over its bluegrass bones are influences ranging from Bartok to Bach to Keith Jarrett. It was a lovely piece that to my ears sounded a bit studious at times but nonetheless striking in its ambition and affection of bluegrass. Thile doesn't want to get away from it; he just wants it to grow.
And I say all this because on Wednesday night, about half way through, I noticed something. It was a long and single fiber of spider web miraculously attached to the scroll of the double bass, the other end wafting in the breeze. The Punch Brothers are really the Spider Men. -JS