Born in Vista, California, Sara Ullrika Watkins made her professional debut in 1999 as the fiddler of the progressive bluegrass group Nickel Creek, which consisted of herself, her elder brother Sean, and mandolinist Chris Thile.
Nickel Creek has released five studio albums, one compilation album, and seven singles including the albums Nickel Creek, This Side, and Why Should the Fire Die? Aside from singing and fiddling, Watkins also plays the ukulele and the guitar.
In 2002, Watkins starred in an advertisement for cell phone provider Cingular Wireless (now AT&T Mobility) alongside her former fiddle teacher Dennis Caplinger, as well as other prominent bluegrass artists.
Nickel Creek is currently on hiatus to branch off into new projects, and Watkins is pursuing a solo career, having released her debut, Sara Watkins, on Nonesuch Records on April 7, 2009.
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-----Watkins signed as a solo artist with Nonesuch Records in fall 2008 and released her self-titled debut solo album on April 7, 2009. Watkins started recording the album in February 2008, in Nashville and Los Angeles. Sara Watkins was produced by bassist John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame, who first performed with Watkins on a Mutual Admiration Society tour in 2004.
The 2007 documentary film Arctic Tale featured a song by Watkins and musician Grant-Lee Phillips, titled "Song of the North (Beneath the Sun)." Watkins sang in the film, along with other performers including Aimee Mann and Brian Wilson.
In January 2008, Billboard reported that a new supergroup octet was forming tentatively named The Scrolls - but now officially named Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.)
The octet is composed of Watkins, her brother Sean Watkins on guitar, Glen Phillips on guitar and vocals, Benmont Tench on piano, Luke Bulla on fiddle, Pete Thomas on drums, Davey Faragher on bass along with Greg Leisz who will play multipe roles. The group's self-titled album was released in 2009. Sara is also featured on Needtobreathe's new CD The Outsiders on the track "Stones Under Rushing Water."
Watkins toured the U.S. as an opening in the spring and fall of 2008. She performed short tours as an opening act for singer-songwriter Tift Merritt along the West Coast in March and April and with Robert Earl Keen around New England in September, as well as doing a 17-date tour with Donavon Frankenreiter in October.
On April 14, 2009, she appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, with Jones on bass, Questlove of The Roots on drums, and her brother Sean Watkins on guitar. She has also performed on A Prairie Home Companion at the Minnesota State Fair and the Fitzgerald Theater.
In late January and early February 2010 Watkins toured with Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain in Scotland and England under the "Transatlantic Sessions" banner. The tour ended with performance in the Royal Festival Hall in London on February 6. In June 2010.
Sara also appeared on the Nerdist podcast as a musical guest, performing her best-known solo song, "Long Hot Summer Days." Later, she participated in the Summer Love Tour with Garrison Keillor in venues across the U.S. She guest hosted Keillor's show A Prairie Home Companion on January 15, 2011.
Watkins contributed fiddle and vocals on The Decemberists' 2011 tour.