"How to Grow a Band" reveals the journey that mandolinist Chris Thile took after Nickel Creek imploded under its own weight.

The Punch Brothers
How to Grow a Band
Shaftway Productions

They say that the best art comes from pain and the Punch Brothers’ new documentary, How to Grow a Band, reveals the journey that mandolinist Chris Thile took after Nickel Creek imploded under its own weight. With his main gig becoming a memory and the struggle of a divorce still ringing, Thile composed “The Blind Leaving the Blind,” a 40-minute string quintet for bluegrass instruments. As you watch this movie you get to witness a young band full of virtuoso musicians develop their own voice and deal with personal changes, while trying to push the envelope of traditional music in new directions.

One of the more tense scenes from the movie is when bassist Greg Garrison discusses the idea of splitting up the four-movement piece to make it more accessible after a not-so-warm welcome at a Glasgow show. Since they are constantly struggling against the “hot bluegrass” label that promoters thrust upon them to fill seats, the group has a “take-no prisoners” attitude to their music. These intra-band discussions do a great job of framing the Brothers’ story of how the ensuing album, Punch, helped the band evolve into a powerful and muscular musical machine. —Jason Shadrick

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