Béla Fleck & Abigail
@ the Royal Festival Hall
14 November 2015
Click an image to enlarge.
What can I say about my wife Abby, except that
the first time I listened to a CD of her music, I started driving
so fast that I got pulled over for speeding and was made to walk
the line by the men in blue! She’s a beautiful singer/songwriter
who builds her material around her distinctive claw-hammer banjo
style. This results in very rooted and soulful, yet original music
of the first order.
Our first musical collaboration together resulted
in an unconventional string quartet comprised of two banjos, cello
and violin and called The Sparrow Quartet. Ben Sollee and Casey
Driessen completed the group, and we did a lot of traveling together
over the course of a year or so. We were fortunate to be one of
the first American groups to perform in Tibet, sponsored by the
Chinese and US governments in tandem. That was a trip!
Abby and I have played as a duo since we first
met, trying impromptu duets at picking parties, doing a few tunes
at benefits, and occasional radio shows together, but we never took
our act on the road – till now.
With the birth of our little boy Juno, we decided
that the best way to stay together more would be to play together
So starting soon, we are touring together whenever
possible, and developing our duo as a real touring act. Eventually
we’ll record a record, but for now we’ll let the duo
discover its identity out on the road. - Béla Fleck
Abigail Washburn biography
Beijing. A smoke-filled club bustling with people,
clanging of bottles, chatter. There is a woman on stage with her
banjo. She begins to sing old-time Appalachian music in Chinese.
The effect produced is entirely original, a cultural mash-up between
two distant yet not so different worlds. The crowd quiets down to
Abigail Washburn never set out to be a songwriter,
recording artist or a producer. Her performance at that smoke-filled
Beijing club would prove to be an important step toward international
acclaim and attention from discerning critics. Wasburn has created
a new sound – a sound that challenges traditional notions
of culture and countries.
Washburn planned to move to China after a road
trip up the east coast, but instead she stumbled upon a professional
music career. This east coast trip included a stop at the International
Bluegrass Music Association conference in Louisville, KY where she
intended to learn a few banjo tunes but walked away with a demo
session for a record deal in Nashville, TN. She cancelled her one-way
ticket to China and moved to Nashville. Shortly thereafter in 2004
she joined Uncle Earl. The ‘all G’earl’ group
released two records on the Rounder label, “She Waits for
Night” (2005) and Waterloo, TN, (2007) the latter of which
was produced by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.
In the midst of touring with Uncle Earl, Washburn
released her first solo debut, and bilingual album, Song of the
Traveling Daughter, (Nettwerk). At that point, Abigail joined cellist,
Ben Sollee, in performing her music around the globe. In 2005 Wasburn,
Ben and a few talented friends (Béla Fleck on banjo and Casey
Driessen on fiddle) formed the Sparrow Quartet and toured China.
In 2006, the US State Department and the American Center for Educational
Exchange requested that the group come back to lead the first official
tour of a US band in Tibet.
In May 2008, the Sparrow Quartet released “Abigail
Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet” (Nettwerk) which was praised
by critics and appeared on several “best of” lists from
prominent publications. Produced by Béla Fleck and composed/arranged
by the unconventional foursome, Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow
Quartet became an “intimate exploration of crossing global
and cultural lines,” says Washburn, who feels a reverence
for both American and Chinese cultures. The unprecedented combination
of two banjos (clawhammer and three-finger-style), cello and five-string
fiddle unfolds - live and on record- in a dreamlike chamber suite.
From the flawless ‘Overture” and harrowing revival,
“Strange Things,” to the interplanetary, Puccini-inspired
old-time fairy tale, “Great Big Wall in China,” this
record highlights the brilliant musicianship of each individual,
but is at the same time much larger than the sum of its parts.
In 2008 and 2009, Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow
Quartet toured extensively throughout the US and Canada with appearances
at festivals including New Orleans Jazz & Heritage, Merlefest,
Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Vancouver Folk Festival and many
more. They were invited by the US State Department to play in China
including several performances in Beijing during the 2008 Olympic
Games. In addition, the were filmed on National Geographic Live
in Washington, DC and were invited to be a part of the Clearwater
Concert, a benefit concert in celebration of Pete Seeger’s
90th birthday along with a line-up of some of the most prominent,
established musicians in the world. For Abigail and the Sparrow
Quartet, 2008 was a year full of accomplishments and successes.
But Abigail Washington does not stop. She is a
force of nature that continually attracts others to become a part
of her art. Enter The Shanghai Restoration Project (SRP) producer
Dave Liang. Washington and Liang first collaborated to produce two
electronic remixes of Sparrow Quartet songs released in April 2009.
In December 2008, Washington served as a resident
teacher at the Sichuan University Art School teaching traditional
US music. In the hours after school was finished, she volunteered
for Sichuan Quake Relief performing at earthquake relocation schools.
The experience with the students and teachers after the performances
left her wanting to do something to help.
In early March, 2009, Washington had the idea
to create Afterquake, a benefit EP in memory of the May 12, 2008
Sichuan Earthquake which left more than 5 million people homeless
and hundreds of thousands dead. Washington and The Shanghai Restoration
Project united again to go to Sichuan Province, to the relocation
schools and into the disaster zone to capture the voices of those
affected by the earthquake and sample sounds from the schools and
the disaster zone. They sampled, recorded and produced Afterquake
in two and a half weeks in Sichuan province. The final result is
a beautiful, timeless, intelligent and accessible musical document
that blends folk and electronic sounds with post-earthquake samples.
A portion of all proceeds will go to the Sichuan Quake Relief organisation.
Whether playing her banjo, or producing an electronic
album, there is an undeniable element of Abigail Washburn in every
project she embraces. Washington’s spirit and philosophy translate
from language to language and bind countries, cultures and genres.
“As more and more people engage in this
struggle for a new direction for the human spirit, we’ll recognise
that we’re morphing into a global species.”- Abigail