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May 15, 2014
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Béla Fleck, Abigail Washburn to grace Center stage

America’s first couple of the banjo, 15-time Grammy Award winner Béla Fleck and his wife Abigail Washburn, in a rare joint performance Thursday (May 15) at the Center for the Arts in Grass Valley.

Through a career that has taken him all over the musical map, Fleck virtually reinvented the sound of the banjo melding be-bop, jazz, classical and bluegrass together in a surprising wash of color and light.

Fleck and Washburn play music they developed as a couple in informal settings, a mix of traditional and original songs and tunes. Together they have mastered the deceptively intricate art of the duet – using the relatively rare 3-finger and claw hammer banjo. Washburn’s beguiling composing, playing and singing blend with Fleck’s riveting and virtuosic musicianship.

Fleck has collaborated with Chick Corea, Oumou Sangare, Zakir Hussain, Edgar Meyer, Dave Mathews, Earl Scruggs, and the entire Cleveland Orchestra for his Banjo Concert ‘The Impostor.’ He has shared the stage with Sting, Bonnie Raitt and the Grateful Dead, among many others.

Born and raised in New York City, Béla Fleck’s first introduction to the banjo came while watching the television show The Beverly Hillbillies. Earl Scruggs’s banjo style hooked the young Fleck’s interest.

“It was like sparks going off in my head,” he later said.

Fleck’s “blu-bop” mix of jazz and bluegrass, his explorations of the banjo as a classical instrument, and his evolutionary approach to the realm of new grass have earned him 15 Grammy Awards. He has been nominated in more different Grammy categories than anyone else in history.

Singer-songwriter Washburn is an alumnus of Uncle Earl, the powerhouse all-female string band. She takes a revelatory approach to old-time American music, pairing venerable folk elements with far-flung sounds to create music both strangely familiar and unlike anything heard before.

Washburn planned to study law in Beijing and was taking part in an informal jam session at a Kentucky bluegrass festival when a record producer invited her to come to Nashville and make a record.

“I see the power of music to connect cultures,” she says.

Washburn writes Appalachian-styled folk songs in the Chinese language and incorporates field recordings of Chinese schoolchildren in her music. Having recently incorporated a rock groove, Washburn calls her latest sound “kung fu Appalachian indie folk rock.”

Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show are $65 for members of the Center, $75 for the general public and are available at the Center’s Box Office in person, by phone at 530-274-8384 ext. 14, online at www.thecenterforthearts.org or at BriarPatch Co-op.

The Center is located at 314 W. Main St. in Grass Valley.


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The Union Updated May 16, 2014 05:08PM Published May 20, 2014 06:53PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.