“…Appalachia and folk-pop, with tinges of Asia and Bruce Springsteen” – The New York Times
“…a modern classic.” – Boston Globe
“…a daring, definite talent.” – Wall Street Journal
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The Center for the Arts welcomes America’s first-couple of the banjo, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, in a rare joint performance.
Through a career that has taken him all over the musical map, Fleck has virtually reinvented the sound of the banjo by taking it to far into the horizon, where be-bop, jazz, classical and bluegrass meld together in a surprising wash of color and light.
Washburn, on the other hand, has taken a revelatory approach to American of old-time music, pairing venerable folk elements with far-flung sounds to create a music that is both strangely familiar and unlike anything heard before.
Fleck and Washburn will be playing music they developed as a couple in informal settings, a mix of traditional and original songs and tunes. Béla and Abigail have mastered the deceptively intricate art of the duet. Their performances embrace a diversity almost unthinkable – coming from just two banjos and one voice. Washburn’s beguiling composing, playing and singing blend with Fleck’s riveting and virtuosic musicianship to create music both unique yet familiar in texture.
Fleck, a 15-time Grammy winner, has collaborated with Chick Corea, Oumou Sangare, Zakir Hussain, Edgar Meyer, Dave Mathews, Earl Scruggs, and the entire Cleveland Orchestra for his Banjo Concert ‘The Impostor’. Washburn’s banjo has taken her far beyond the usual old-timey comfort zone, musically and geographically. An alumnus of Uncle Earl, the powerhouse all-female stringband, Abby’s adopted second homeland is China, and her music resounds with echoes of Appalachia and the tidal wave of emerging Chinese cultural influence. Together, Fleck and Washburn employ the relatively rare 3-finger and clawhammer banjo duet to create an explosion of musical white heat. No wonder that they are married and have a new baby.
Born and raised in New York City, Béla Fleck was first introduced to the banjo while watching the television show The Beverly Hillbillies. Earl Scruggs’s banjo style hooked the young Béla’s interest immediately. “It was like sparks going off in my head,” he later said. What started with sparks has come to set the musical world on fire. Fleck’s “blu-bop” mix of jazz and bluegrass, his explorations of the banjo as a classical instrument, and his evolutionary approach to the realm of newgrass have earned him 14 Grammy Awards. As a testament to his wide experimentation, he has also been nominated in more different Grammy categories than anyone else in history. Fleck has shared the stage with Sting, Bonnie Raitt and the Grateful Dead, among many others.
If American old-time music is about taking simpler ways of life and music-making as one’s model, Abigail Washburn has proven herself to be a bracing revelation to that tradition. The singer-songwriter is every bit as interested in the present and the future as she is in the past, and every bit as attuned to the global as she is to the local. Washburn, who planned to study law in Beijing, was taking part in an informal jam session at a Kentucky bluegrass festival when a record producer invited her to come to Nashville and make a record. “I see the power of music to connect cultures,” she says. Taking those words more literally than you might expect, Washburn writes Appalachian-styled folk songs in the Chinese language and incorporates field recordings of Chinese schoolchildren in her music. Having recently incorporated a rock groove, Washburn calls her latest sound “kung fu Appalachian indie folk rock.”
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Modeled here by Juno Fleck.