The far side of folk

The Britt Festival welcomes Punch Brothers to the Jacksonville stage Saturday.

The quintet, a veritable who's-who of up-and-coming bluegrass talent, features Nickel Creek's Chris Thile, Leftover Salmon's Noam Pikelny and Greg Garrison, The Infamous Stringduster's Chris Eldridge and fiddle player Gabe Witcher.

Their daring music marks a bold new genre in folk, born out of tradition and mixed with classical and free form jazz explorations. On tour supporting their new album "Punch," the group sat down to talk about the band, their nicknames and their music that is anything but bluegrass.

Daily Tidings: Are you pursuing Punch Brothers as a band, rather than just a recording session like Bela Fleck's folk super group Strength In Numbers?

Chris Thile: That was actually one of the motivations behind this band &

was how much we all loved Strength In Numbers, and how disappointed we all were that there wasn't another record. That music means an awful lot and it certainly enabled us to do what we're doing. It's that idea of a hybrid between very composed material and free material, where you're not necessarily keenly aware of the difference between the two approaches. Our goal with (Punch Brothers) is for it to be everybody's main project and it will continue for quite some time.

DT: I have heard people ask about your new music, "Where's the bluegrass? Where's the country?" What do you say to them?

Chris Thile: There are lots of bands out there where they can hear bluegrass. We love bluegrass, but...

Gabe Witcher: We're not a bluegrass band. I don't think we've ever really claimed to be a bluegrass band.

CT: And if people see these instruments and all they can think about is they want to hear some bluegrass, then they need to go see somebody else. For us, music is a very interactive experience. If all people want to hear is bluegrass, then more power to them. Go to a bluegrass festival.

DT: I heard a rumor that you wanted to move the band to Chicago. Is that because the Cubs are doing so well?

CT: (Laughs) It certainly factored into things. We actually were going to move there last September, but Greg, our bass player, found out he was having a third kid so it was no longer in the cards. Two of us live in New York, Critter (Chris Eldgridge) over here lives in Nashville, and Gabe is out in LA.

DT: Where did the name Critter come from?

Chris Eldridge: That's what everybody called me when I was a little munchkin, crawling around at bluegrass festivals. My dad (Greg Eldridge) is in Seldom Scene, so I grew up coming to these things and everybody called me Critter. As I got older, people stopped calling me Critter, except for Tony Rice. My friends heard him say it and they thought it was cool. Now I'm Critter again.

DT: How did Chris Thile and banjo player Noam Pikelny meet?

CT: Pickles and I met in Telluride, Colo. We met earlier at RockyGrass in Lyons, Colo. But I didn't really remember that, for which I will never cease getting (expletive).

CE: Get Pickles to tell that one.

Noam Pikelny: It's really the Great American Love Story. I really admired Chris' playing and musicianship and I decided to transcribe some of his music to the five-string Banjo. I saw him at RockyGrass, just hanging backstage, and I worked up the courage to approach him with my banjo and play "Song For A Young Queen," one of his compositions I had worked up for the banjo. And I was really proud of the how I made the arrangement fit. So I played it for Chris and he said, "Yeah there's a lot of that in there"&

166;" That was his response.

CT: I'll never live it down. I'm a changed man.

NP: I didn't get to talk to him again until I played (with Leftover Salmon) at Telluride (Bluegrass Festival). He was like, "Hey man, what's your name? I've never heard you play before. That's some great stuff." I'm like, "Dude, I was that guy with the "Song For A Young Queen." You crushed my dreams! I've been cryin' for three years! But we came to a clean slate and started our friendship.

CT: A Great American Love Story.

DT: You're playing at the Britt Festival in Jacksonville on July 5. Got festive plans for the Fourth?

CT: Definitely. Having a watermelon seed-spitting contest. You're going down, Critter.

CE: Oh, you're dead.

Tickets are $24 for lawn seating, $35 for reserved seating. Show starts at 8 p.m. For more information on this or other Britt Festival events, call 773-6077 or visit .

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