2 banjos and a baby: Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn bring duet show to Savannah

Posted by ERIN SHAW on March 30, 2014 

At the end of their two-hour duet show Sunday, Savannah Music Festival favorites Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn brought their latest collaborative project onstage: their baby boy, Juno. 

The little tyke alternatively reached for his mother's microphone and grasped at his father's banjo as the couple played a cover of the gospel hymn "His Eye on the Sparrow" in front of a full crowd at Lucas Theatre for the Arts. 

Fleck and Washburn are both SMF staples and are accomplished players with individual projects. But after Juno was born, the husband and wife decided the best way to stay together was to play together. 

They created a duet banjo show that combined Washburn's old-timey style with Fleck's intricate three-finger playing. 

"We took three months off for the baby," Washburn said during the show, "and we thought we were going to have all this time to write songs and work on our duet stuff..."

"...and this is the one song we wrote," Fleck added as the audience laughed. "It's instrumental and it's untitled." 

Despite their hectic new life with a baby, the couple was able to create a varied and engaging show, alternating between solos, duets and intermittent storytellng. 

Fleck, a winner of 15 Grammys, first collaborated with Washburn as part of The Sparrow Quartet with celloist Ben Sollee and violinist Casey Dreissen. The group was among the first Americans to perform in Tibet, sponsored by the U.S. and Chinese governments. 

Washburn also speaks fluent Chinese, and sang a few Chinese folk songs in her second language. Then she would turn around and sing a bluegrass favorite, an original song or a '50s gospel tune, tweaking her clear, gorgeous voice to fit the place and time period. 

It was a fascinating clash of Eastern and Western influences that was at once familiar and exotic. Equally interesting was the couple's interaction onstage, which was resonated with love and respect. 

Fleck would reach over to give Washburn's hand a squeeze, and the two lightly teased each other throughout the show. 

"Banjo tuning is a real couple's activity," Fleck joked. 

He then asked his wife if she'd add a "hot solo" somewhere in his next song. "I think it would be good for our relationship," he said with a laugh.

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