Nickel Creek says goodbye ... for now

Sean Watkins launched his career at 12 years old. Now, nearly two decades later, he's ready for a break. Watkins, as one-third of the band Nickel Creek, will roll into town today as part of the band's farewell tour. Scratch that - it's the "Farewell, For Now" tour.

There wasn't any bad blood between the band members, and no harsh words have been spoken. It's just, Watkins and bandmates Sara Watkins and Chris Thile need a little break. After years of constant touring and the release of six records - four of which hit shelves between 2000 and 2006 - that seems like an understandable request.

"All these years of touring get taxing. We still love each other and we're still friends and love playing together," said Watkins in a recent interview. "It's not a definite end. We're not saying we won't be back. We just each have other projects we'd like to do."

For Watkins, there are a cache of activities in the works. Movie scores and songwriting are focuses for the musician. He is also currently collaborating with Switchfoot member Jon Foreman, and the fruit of their labors is slated for release in early 2008.

But currently, Watkins and company are wrapping up their this-may-be-the-end-but-maybe-not farewell tour. Even though this round of shows is overshadowed by the dismal cloud of goodbyes (maybe), Watkins promises tonight's concert will still have the makings of a signature Nickel Creek experience. Energies will be high, players will be spirited and fans will be quick to tap their toes and stretch their vocal chords.

"We have a real love for playing. And when you really love something, you give it your all," Watkins said. "A lot of our energy comes from our fans, too. Audiences get so into the music and it's easy to play off that."

With an uninhibited blend of musical elements, Nickel Creek isn't easy to define. They've been referred to as a contemporary bluegrass trio. They've been labeled a country band with rock counterparts. They've been called progressive acoustic, whatever that is. When asked where they fit in the musical scheme, Watkins himself isn't sure.

"People always ask us to define our sound. But the only reason we ever need to know what to call our music is when we have interviews like this," he said. "We play some of everything. It all depends on your definitions of what these genres are. Bluegrass fans think we're rock. Rock fans think we're bluegrass. So who really knows?"

More importantly, who really cares? Nickel Creek fans sure don't seem to. The trio has gained a following that spreads over demographic and state lines. They have pockets of fans in all age groups, all across the country, from Asheville and Atlanta to Los Angeles and Denver.

"We play across such a range that we have musical aspects for just about everyone," Watkins said. "Old people like bluegrass, so they like us for that. And young people like our new spin on it."

SideBar: If you go

' What: Nickel Creek "Farewell, For Now" concert, with Bela Fleck

' When: 8 p.m. today

' Where: Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St., Atlanta

' Cost: Tickets cost $25 and $35.

' Info: Visit www.nickelcreek.com or www.foxtheatre.org.