Husband-and-wife banjo duo Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn perform in Beaver Creek
If you go ...
Who: Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek.
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday.
More information: Visit www.vilarpac.org.
BEAVER CREEK — The Vilar Performing Arts Center welcomes husband and wife banjo duo Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn Monday at 7:30 p.m. Washburn and Fleck embrace the notion that they’ve become a family band, whether they are at home, on stage or recording.
It’s their deep bond, on top of the way their distinct musical personalities and banjo styles interact, that makes theirs a picking partnership unlike any other on the planet. Washburn and Fleck combine the earthy sophistication of an old-time singer-songwriter with the virtuosic, jazz-to-classical ingenuity to create a one-of-a-kind pairing, with one-of-a-kind possibilities. Tickets to Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are $65 and are on sale now at the VPAC Box Office (970-845-8497/www.vilarpac.org).
Fleck and Washburn have collaborated in the past, most visibly in their Sparrow Quartet with Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee. Until last fall, though, any performances they gave as a two-piece were decidedly informal, a pickin’ party here, a benefit show at Washburn’s grandmother’s Unitarian church there. It was inevitable and eagerly anticipated by fans of tradition-tweaking acoustic fare that these partners in music and life (who married in 2009) would eventually do a full-fledged project together.
Fleck, a 15-time Grammy award winner, has devoted time away from his standard-setting ensemble Bela Fleck and the Flecktones to a staggeringly broad array of musical experiments, from writing a concerto for the Nashville Symphony to exploring the banjo’s African roots to jazz duos with Chick Corea. Meanwhile, Washburn has drawn critical acclaim for her solo albums, done fascinating work in folk musical diplomacy in China, presented an original theatrical production, contributed to singular side groups Uncle Earl and The Wu-Force and become quite a live draw in her own right. The two of them decided they were ready to craft their debut album as a duo, “Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn” (released last October on Rounder Records). There was one other small, yet not at all insignificant factor in the timing: the birth of their son, Juno.
Their new album uses only the sounds they could coax out of their bodies and their banjos. Washburn and Fleck didn’t confine themselves to playing their usual workhorses, her Ome Jubilee and his pre-war Gibson Mastertone Style 75. Between them, they used seven different banjos in all, including a cello banjo, a ukulele banjo (that technically belongs to Juno) and a baritone banjo that Fleck commissioned specifically for this album.
“We had this vision of playing different banjos in different registers,” Fleck said, “finding a way to make every song have its own unique stamp, yet the whole project having a big, cohesive sound — with only two people.”
From track to track, Washburn and Fleck are a nimble band unto themselves. Composing such tracks as “Railroad,” “Oh! Susanna,” “Little Birdie,” “Bye Bye Baby Blues” and “What’cha Gonna Do,” the duo shows off every aspect of their songwriting and instrumental talent.
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