[USA ~ ADELAIDE PREMIERE]
Adelaide Town Hall, Fri 12 Aug.
Tom West, local singer/songwriter and accomplished guitarist, warmed up the supportive and string-loving Adelaide Guitar Festival crowd, with a set of original songs combining lyrical journeys and melodic guitar hooks with an honest and heartfelt performance. Check out Easy Love or one of his many other well-crafted songs.
There was a delightful community feel in the packed Adelaide Town Hall as the largely musician (and guitarist) filled audience eagerly waited to be delighted by two proponents of banjo magic.
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn have a sweet, fun and relaxed chemistry on stage; not surprising as they are not only compatible musical partners but also partners in life, who clearly have enormous mutual love and respect for each other. Best known for Béla Fleck And The Flecktones, Fleck reinvented the backwater stereotype of the banjo that has long been associated with gap-toothed images of Deliverance, or perhaps a gentler connection with an oversized, rainbow-reminiscing green frog.
Washburn is well known in folk circles for her traditional claw hammer Appalachian style, and it is the contrast to Fleck’s explosive three-finger bluegrass-style that give this duo such charm. Fleck’s technical prowess is extraordinary as he whips out a blaze of fast scalar runs with supreme musicality against Washburn’s percussive and repetitive trance-like rhythms.
The duo exuded an easy rapport and humour from the outset and joked about their inclusion on the billing in the Adelaide Guitar Festival, and that perhaps the organisers failed to notice the instruments they weren’t playing. Nevertheless every member of the audience had no qualms about the missing two strings and embraced the strange membrane covered circular shaped design.
Washburn’s warm and soulful voice, soured above such folk picking songs as Dinah Won’t You Blow Your Horn, and growled with gospel-tinged richness on the Washington Phillips tune What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?
The set was beautifully comprised of exhilarating solo spots from both artists, including an outstanding solo acoustic banjo spot from the inimitable eclectic genre mashing Fleck, and energetic clog dancing from Washburn! Tonally it was always interesting as they changed instruments from banjo-ukulele and cello-banjo back to their traditional resonator and open back instruments, and represented a range of styles from bluegrass to gospel to folk. Fleck, a self-professed banjo geek, astonished all with his technical prowess and Washburn provided more ethereal textures, and those gorgeous vocals.
A well-deserved standing ovation occurred before the duo returned to provide an encore in honour of their grandmother (and namesake to their son Juno) June, The song they chose was His Eye Is On The Sparrow, with the lyrics “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free” – they most definitely do and they are!
Image courtesy of Jim McGuire