Dueling Banjos, Bela and Abby Style
This show at the Stockbridge Theatre at Pinkerton Academy was Béla and Abby and their banjos, and it was a stunner! (Sorry, photography was not allowed; I am seeing them again in a few days, so I will probably upload some photos from that show here.)
They obviously have a lot of chemistry, both on and off stage. I could not tell if the stage banter was rehearsed because it had the feel of a natural conversation between them.
The stage was set with seven banjos of varying sizes and ‘voices’, three for Béla and four for Abby, as well as three seats (two for Béla and one for Abby). A few times during the sets, Béla sat on a stool that was set up on stage right and played solo.
The sets consisted of new material that they wrote together, traditional songs they have made their own, and some of each of Béla’s and Abby’s compositions. Abby sang all of the vocals while they traded leads on the instrumental parts of the songs.
They explained the inspiration for some of the songs, with descriptions that gave me good mental images of what was happening at the time; a baby bird perched on the edge of its nest, their infant son Juno learning to bang…
Béla told us that they play the banjo using different styles (he plucks the strings with three fingers while she plays clawhammer style), and I was pleased with myself for noticing the difference before he talked about it.
Béla is a banjo virtuoso in both jazz and bluegrass/newgrass genres. I cannot say I prefer one style over the other; my introduction to him was as a jazz musician about 25 years ago and I love that but I also love his bluegrass music. I have heard Abby play only bluegrass and gospel music and she is a master of those styles.
Did I forget to mention his African music as well? Several year ago, Béla went to Africa to trace the roots of the banjo. After that trip, a documentary called ‘Throw Down Your Heart’ was produced by his half-brother, Sascha Paladino with two tours in which he brought African musicians to the US to tour with him. They played at least one African tune in this show.
Abby has spent much time in China; I recall the first time I saw her in 2008, when she played bluegrass music but sang in Chinese. They played several songs with traditional Chinese lyrics, and Abby’s voice sounded smoother to my ears and much more beautiful when singing in Chinese (which I find can be dissonant) than it did six years ago.
The audience wasn’t as large as they deserve but they were well received. For their encore after a standing ovation, they went to the stool and mic at stage right to play Abby’s grandmother’s favorite song, ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’ which they performed beautifully.
I expect they will enjoy a long partnership, both in life and in music.
Posted on September 18, 2014, in concert reviews, music, Uncategorized and tagged Abigail Washburn, banjo, Bela Fleck, Bluegrass music, boston, concert review, gospel music, newgrass music, Pinkerton Academy, Sparrow Quartet, Stockbridge Theatre. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.