WC has been lucky enough to see Béla Fleck, master banjo player, several times. With the Flecktones, the original blu-bop band, with the equally incredible bassist Victor Wooten and Wooten’s brother, Future Man, on Drumitar. Then with piano jazz legend Chick Corea for an improvisational jazz set by two guys with a staggering 34 Grammy awards between them.
As good as those shows were, Béla Fleck and his wife, Abigail Washburn, put on an equally impressive show at the old Egyptian Theater in Boise Monday night.
Washburn is a gifted banjoist and vocalist. While Fleck plays the banjo in the three-finger style, like the late Earl Scruggs, Washburn plays clawhammer style. The contrast is interesting and the two techniques work surprisingly well together.
Béla Fleck remains an absolutely spectacular banjoist. His solo sets included pieces by Bartok (he’s named after the classical composer, after all), Rachmaninoff, Muddy Waters, Duke Ellington and, of course, as always, the theme from “The Beverly Hillbillies.” The bluegrass tune that inspired Fleck to take up the banjo. With Washburn on rhythm and sometimes counterpoint, they performed standard bluegrass, a song in Mandarin Chinese (Fleck calls it “Mandolin”), a couple of Flecktones tunes, and banjo tunes from before the Civil War to Fleck’s and Washburn’s latest composition, and everything in between. On a couple of tunes they passed the lead back and forth in mid-song.
Washburn’s singing adds a lot to the show; in particular, she is very good at old gospel tunes. And her a cappella cover of Sarah Ogan Gunning’s “Come All You Coal Miners” was superb, even better than Nanci Griffith’s version in Fairbanks a few years back. At the risk of a spoiler for those who haven’t seen the show, Washburn pulled of another big surprise in the middle of the second set that will make you laugh and cheer.
Did WC mention that they are utterly charming together on stage?
It’s a Must See show. The best banjo player on the planet and his wife, having immense fun together, and inviting you to share in it.
Special note to Interior Alaska readers: The show is coming to Fairbanks May 14, 2016. Don’t miss it.