Friday, October 11, 2024, 7:30 PM

Street and Davis Performance Hall, Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre

This performance will last approximately two and a half hours, including one 20-minute intermission. 

*Run times listed here are based on information provided at this time and are subject to change. 

Category A $65 | Category B $45 | Category C $25
$10 students with ID and youth 18 and under
15%-25% subscription discounts available

"They both push far beyond the bluegrass expectations of their chosen instrument…"

— The New York Times

Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn have a musical partnership like no other. A 15-time Grammy winner, Fleck is considered the world’s premier banjo player, while Washburn is a singer-songwriter and clawhammer banjo player who combines the instrument with Far East culture and sounds.

Using the banjo to showcase America’s rich heritage while pulling the noble instrument into new and unique realms, the duo presents music that feels wildly innovative and familiar at the same time. Fleck and Washburn perform pieces from their Grammy-winning self-titled debut, as well as their newest record, Echo in the Valley.

“Some of the most interesting things in the world come together in strange and unique ways and show our diversity,” reflects Fleck. “The banjo is just one of those things. It’s a great example of how the world can combine things and create surprising hybrids,” he said in reference to the ancestral African roots of the banjo combining with Scotch-Irish music in Appalachia.

Echo in the Valley is the follow up to Fleck and Washburn’s acclaimed self-titled debut that earned the 2016 Grammy for Best Folk Album. This time around, the mission was to take their double banjo combination of three finger and clawhammer styles “to the next level and find things to do together that we had not done before,” says Fleck. “We’re expressing different emotions through past techniques and going to deeper places.” 

The results are fascinating, especially considering their strict rules for recording: all sounds must be created by the two of them, the only instruments used are banjos (they have seven between them, ranging from a ukulele to an upright bass banjo), and they must be able to perform every recorded song live.

Fleck and Washburn met at a square dance and began playing music together a dozen years ago, beginning with the Sparrow Quartet. They married shortly thereafter and became parents to a cute little tot. They’ve been touring the globe as a duo for years, almost nonstop but for each other’s performances with various other musical iterations: Fleck with the likes of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Chick Corea, and Chris Thile, among many others, and Washburn with Wu Fei (a master of the ancient 21-string Chinese zither), the Wu-Force, and Uncle Earl.

With the exception of a few restyled traditional tunes, all tracks on Echo in the Valley are originals and are largely co-written — a different creative approach from their first album, where songs were mostly his or hers. “This time, we really wanted to truly write together,” Fleck adds. “We spent a lot of our time on the lyrics, deciding what we want the songs to communicate, both literally and under the surface.”

Echo in the Valley reflects relevant issues while simultaneously connecting us to our past through wild reimaginings of traditional pieces. New original tunes range from Over the Divide, a song inspired by Hans Breuer, who worked to ferry Syrian refugees to safety, to Blooming Rose, inspired by Native American voices and lamenting a continual distancing from nature, and Don’t Let It Bring You Down, an emphatic mantra for hard times.

As the story goes, Fleck was struck by the sound of Earl Scruggs’ banjo when hearing the Beverly Hillbillies theme song. He got hold of a banjo, took to heart his musical namesakes (Béla for Bartok, Anton for Weburn, and Leos for Yanecek), and has since continuously broken new musical ground with his instrument. Fleck has the distinction of being nominated in more categories than any other instrumentalist in Grammy history and has brought his banjo through scorching hot newgrass, traditional bluegrass, otherworldly funk, modern jazz, African originals, transatlantic Celtic, and classical realms, with two self-composed banjo concertos (The Impostor and Juno Concerto) to his name and a third in the works.

Washburn was similarly jolted into life as a banjoist, but for her it was hearing Doc Watson perform Shady Grove. “I was proud to discover that I came from a country where you can hear that ancient sound — from Africa, from Scotland, from Ireland — all mixed up in this beautiful new sound, with those ancient tones in it,” Washburn reflects. “The ancient sounds of our culture remind us who we are, and in them, we see a constellation of who we are becoming.”

Washburn has imbued this philosophy in all aspects of her work, from the string band Uncle Earl to her acclaimed solo albums, Song of the Traveling Daughter and City of Refuge, and her semi-autobiographical theatrical work, Post-American Girl, as well as in her musical ambassadorship with China, a country with which she has a long, profound history. Washburn is deftly following in the footsteps of the founding mothers of folk, and has become a prominent voice of old-time in our time while bringing to light those ancient sounds of American and Far East cultures in new and exciting ways.

Fleck first performed with Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer at the Moss Arts Center in 2018. This is Washburn's first performance at the center.

Photos by Joshua Black Wilkins and Jim McGuire