Pikelny is still a Punch Brother, but he’s filling gaps in the band’s schedule with solo touring. His one-man show starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9 at Manship Theatre.
In March, Pikelny released “Universal Favorite,” his fourth solo album. It features beautifully played, original banjo instrumentals and Pikelny’s interpretations of songs by Josh Ritter, Elliott Smith and Roger Miller. For “Universal Favorite,” Pikelny also sings lead on an album for the first time.
A Chicago native, Pikelny performed with bluegrass bands during high school. In 2002, he joined Colorado’s bluegrass-country-jam band, Leftover Salmon. After his move to Nashville in 2006, he joined mandolinist, singer and future “A Prairie Home Companion” host Chris Thile in the Punch Brothers.
Pikelny’s solo albums “Beat the Devil & Carry a Rail” and “Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe” received Grammy nominations. In 2010, he won the inaugural Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.
Why did you begin playing one-man shows?
I’ve always admired people who play solo shows and make solo albums. A good number of them really mastered that format. On a musical level, it’s so compelling from start to finish. There’s also an intimacy there that’s not to be found anywhere else.
Did the Punch Brothers hiatus also inspire your solo touring?
We reached the end of the line for touring for our album “The Phosphorescent Blues.” We were taking time off and a few babies were about to born. There was all this time to fill.
Your well-received album “Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe” features a five-piece bluegrass band. Why didn’t you continue along that path?
The response was so strong. There was some temptation to be like, "OK. I’ve settled on my formula. People like this more than anything I’ve done before. Awards. People buying the records." But that wasn’t my goal. I wanted that album to be a single component of my musical offerings.
You decided that your follow-up album had to be completely different?
Something in high contrast to that record. There’s no higher contrast than playing solo.
Your recent solo touring and “Universal Favorite” feature you singing solo for the first time. Why did you start singing lead?
When the set list was coming together for the initial version of this solo show, I wasn’t going to sing. But then I looked at the song list and saw that it really wasn’t a complete picture of what I do musically. It was a banjo recital.
Because I wanted to be true to myself, I thought the shows would be more complete if I sang. As an instrumentalist, I see no more important task than supporting a singer during a song. That’s a huge component of my musicianship. I didn’t want a blind spot on the “Universal Favorite” album, and these shows just because, historically, people hadn’t thought of me as a singer.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9
WHERE: Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge
COST: $35-$50, plus fees