Distinguished by their youth and eclectic taste, Nickel Creek became a word-of-mouth sensation on the progressive bluegrass scene and soon found their appeal spreading beyond the genre's core audience. Guitarist Sean Watkins, fiddler Sara Watkins (his younger sister), and mandolin/banjo/bouzouki player Chris Thile first started performing together in 1989, when all three were preteens and taking music lessons in their native San Diego. They met while watching the local band Bluegrass Etc., which put on weekly performances in a pizza parlor. A bluegrass promoter liked the idea of such a young band, and thus Nickel Creek was formed, with Thile's father Scott joining them on bass. Nickel Creek were regulars on the festival circuit through most of the '90s, and during that time, Thile recorded two solo albums, 1994's Leading Off... and 1997's Stealing Second. In 1998, with help from Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek landed a record deal with the roots music label Sugar Hill. Krauss produced their self-titled debut album, which was released in 2000.