Crowned “the king and queen of the banjo” by Paste Magazine, the husband-and-wife duo of Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn build upon the folk tradition to create a distinct style pulling inspiration from Chinese atonal music, the banjo’s rich American heritage, and more to stretch “their sound beyond bluegrass, across continents, and into everything from prog-rock to Eastern instrumentation” (NPR).
Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, “the king and queen of the banjo” (Paste Magazine), have a musical partnership like no other. Béla Fleck is a fifteen-time Grammy Award winner who has taken the instrument across multiple genres, and Abigail Washburn a singer-songwriter and clawhammer banjo player who re-radicalized it by combining it with Far East culture and sounds. The two met at a square dance, began collaborating musically and eventually fell in love. Over the years, they played together most visibly in the Sparrow Quartet alongside Ben Sollee and Casey Driessen and informally at a pickin’ party here, a benefit there, or occasionally popping up in each other’s solo shows. Fans of tradition-tweaking acoustic fare eagerly anticipated that Béla & Abigail would begin making music together as a duo.
Fleck has the virtuosic, jazz-to-classical ingenuity of an iconic instrumentalist and composer with bluegrass roots. His collaborations range from his ground-breaking standard-setting ensemble Béla Fleck and the Flecktones to a staggeringly broad array of musical experiments. From writing concertos for full symphony orchestra, exploring the banjo’s African roots, to jazz duos with Chick Corea, many tout that Béla Fleck is the world’s premier banjo player. Washburn has the earthy sophistication of a postmodern, old-time singer-songwriter who has drawn critical acclaim for her solo albums. She has done fascinating work in folk musical diplomacy in China, presented an original theatrical production, and has contributed to singular side groups Uncle Earl and The Wu-Force. In addition to being named a TED Fellow in 2012, Abigail was recently named the first US-China Fellow at Vanderbilt University, in addition to Carolina Performing Arts/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s DisTil Fellow for 2018-2020.
On stage, Fleck & Washburn will perform pieces from their Grammy-winning self-titled debut as well as their new record, Echo in the Valley (Rounder 2017). With one eye on using the banjo to showcase America’s rich heritage and the other pulling the noble instrument from its most familiar arena into new and unique realms, Bela & Abigail meet in the mean, head-on, to present music that feels wildly innovative and familiar at the same time. Whether at home, on stage or on record, their deep bond, combined with the way their distinct musical personalities and banjo styles interact, makes theirs a picking partnership unlike any other on the planet.