Concert Review: Bella Fleck & Abigail Washburn @ Corona, Nov. 17

Bella Fleck and Abigail Washburn brought their banjos to Montreal on Tuesday, November 14th. First scheduled at the Corona Theatre but after a last minute venue change, the concert was moved to the L’Astral. The move proved itself to be quite fortunate as it provided a more intimate setting. 

The duo opened the concert with a few songs from their new album, Echo In The Valley, starting with a three song medley, “Sally In The Garden/Big Country/Molly Put The Kettle On”. Next up was “Railroad”, and then a question many of us may wonder at one time or another, “If I Could Talk To A Younger Me”.

There was a bit of banter between songs—Bella Fleck asking if we have banjos up here, and then after a boisterous “yes!” from the audience, he points out that banjos prove a civilized nation. The quiet attentive audience hung on every word and note. 

Ms. Washburn was the first to venture into the solo section of the evening; she left the microphone behind, telling the story of how she learned the next song sitting in a hot tub with the writer, Genie Harper

After reminiscing about his shows at the Spectrum with the Flecktones, it was Mr. Fleck’s turn to go solo with a couple of instrumental tunes from that era. The duo then returned for one last song before the end of the first set, “My Home’s Across The Blue Ridge Mountains”.

After a short break the pair returned with “Bloomin’ Roses”, and then a rousing version of “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”, both from the new album. It was story time again for a short while as Abigail Washburn recounted her time in college studying Chinese, before breaking out into “Lost Lamb” and “Song Of The Traveling Daughter” from her solo album of the same name. Both songs were sung in Chinese and English. 

Bella Fleck then offered up a short course in the different methods of banjo picking, with both artists trading barbs over which had the better method: his three-fingered style like legendary picker Earl Scruggs, or the more traditional (and better, according to Ms. Washburn) Clawhammer method.

Abigail Washburn then informs the audience about Sarah Ogan Gunning, the woman that penned the next song, “Come All Ye Coal Miners”. She then introduces Bella Fleck back to the microphone, when she mentions he is working on his third banjo concerto. She also mentioned that if anyone is working on their own they should see the documentary about Bella Fleck, How To Write A Banjo Concerto. He then played one piece from his first concerto, before playing a solo instrumental bluegrass-styled song.

The duo teamed back up with one last song, “Take Me To Harlem”, with Abigail Washburn adding some percussion, stomping her feet to Bella Fleck’s three-fingered banjo picking. 

After a hasty retreat, an out-of-breath Abigail Washburn and Mr. Fleck returned for the encore. The evening of splendid music ended on a gospel note, with the audience helping out with the harmonies during “Keys To The Kingdom”.