Banjo and bluegrass experience
Published: Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 11:26 a.m.
It is a rare thing, indeed, when a world-class musician is also a world-class family man. Add that to the list of accolades around the planet’s most famous banjo player, Béla Fleck.
Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn
with the Del McCoury Band
What: Husband-and-wife banjoists perform with band led by renowned bluegrass singer/guitarist
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Phillips Center, 3201 Hull Road
Tickets: $25-$50, $10 for UF students
Info: 392-2787, Ticketmaster.com
Fleck has collaborated with everyone from the Tanzanian thumb-pianist, Anania Ngoliga, to Tuvan throat-singer Kongar-ol Ondar and his own band of virtuosos, the Flecktones. Now, months after the birth of a baby boy, Juno, Fleck is involved in a much closer collaboration — with his wife, Abigail Washburn.
Fleck and Washburn will perform at the Phillips Center tonight with the Del McCoury Band.
“It’s a very sweet experience,” Fleck said of touring with his wife and child, in an email interview. “It’s profound to be able to make music with your partner/love. And now with Juno in the mix, it’s like no touring I’ve ever done. It’s just like being home all the time instead of away.”
Fleck says that performing with his wife — who is a highly respected banjo player in her own right — has allowed him to feel more comfortable on stage.
“When we do something really well together, it’s a great feeling,” he says. “When we struggle with something, we forgive each other, and that’s a great feeling too. Some people should never collaborate with their partner, and some should. There are lots of great examples about why either is a great or terrible idea. In our case, we are honest, comfortable and fully in each other’s corner — so when we work on music all of that comes into play. And we bring our comfort on stage with us. I am able to be more unguarded with her up there with me, and I actually even talk sometimes.”
Fleck also says that performing with the Del McCoury Band makes the tour more special. McCoury is a bluegrass legend who began his musical career in 1963 by joining Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys.
Inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2011, McCoury’s current tour with Fleck and Washburn marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of his career.
“I love Del and his entire family,” Fleck says. “I first played with him in the late ’70s. He and the band took me out on the road for a couple of days and I got to sit in. It was a great experience for me.”
Of course, bluegrass is only a part of what Fleck does. He has a long history of pushing the banjo to new places and placing it in new settings, and recently he was commissioned by the Nashville Symphony to write a classical piece for banjo. The result, “The Impostor,” was released in August.
“It’s quite different,” Fleck says about the classical banjo piece. “And I’ve gotten to play the concerto with major symphonies. It’s very exciting and is a new direction in my career. Now I’m actually composing commissioned works on a regular basis. There’s a film about the creation of ‘The Impostor’ coming out soon, as well.”
With all of his accomplishments — including 15 Grammy Awards — perhaps what makes Fleck so special is the lack of ego he brings to his collaborations. He is known as a good listener, approaching each project differently, allowing his musical partners the freedom to express themselves and then figuring out how he can complement them, rather than trying to impose his style on them.
Naturally, he approaches the collaboration with his wife in the same way. “Abby is a beautiful singer, songwriter and banjoist,” he says. “This is very acoustic, very intimate and very sweet.
“I just love it.”