Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn – NCH – Live Reivew – 21/01/20
Find out more about the NCH Perspective series here.
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn released their first album as a duo in 2014. It went on to win the Best Folk Album in the Grammy Awards in 2016. Their follow up album ‘Echo in the Valley’ was released in 2017. The pair come from quite different backgrounds. Béla Fleck was born in 1958 in New York. Abigail Washburn was born in 1977 in Evanston, Illinois. The pair married in 2010 and have been recording and touring together since. They have been described as “the king and queen of the banjo”. Their performance at the National Concert Hall was an eclectic night of music, song and even some comedy!
The evening started with a rendition of the American folk song Railroad with Abigail on vocals. The next track was a medley of three tunes with Sally in the Garden/ Big Country and Molly Put the Kettle On. The music throughout the night showed how wide their influences are, with songs from China, Ireland, America and beyond.
Each song had a short introduction. If it was their own track, they’d talk about what inspired the piece, such as their family or even a song about a man who smuggled Syrian refugees across the border. For more traditional songs, we were told of the tunes origins or where they had first encountered the song, such as Come All You Coal Miners which came with a short tale of Sarah Ogan Gunning, who grew up in the coal mining country of eastern Kentucky in the early part of the last century.
There was even time for a short comedy routine as the couple went into details on how they met. It was through the wonderfully named website banjomingle.com (a website they created!) which aims to help banjo players find their perfect partner. It is a tale of love across the barricades, as each comes from a different style of banjo playing, with Abigail playing clawhammer style and Béla using 3-finger pickin’! Another tale told of their unusual honeymoon in Scotland.
The final song of the set was a rendition on Molly Malone with Abigail on vocals. She said she had recently performed the song with Irish band Dervish at a Scottish folk music festival. She asked for accompaniment from the audience who duly joined in on the chorus.
There was a two-song encore, with a sing-along version of Divine Bell ending the evening. While being extremely talented musicians, the couple are very genuine and there was an intimacy throughout the evening, despite the size of the venue. It had the feel of a perfect evening in a bar, somewhere lost in the Appalachian mountains.