Archive for in performance

in performance: gangstagrass

Gangstagrass, from left: Rench, Dolio the Sleuth, R-Son, Dan Whitener and Landry McMeans. Photo by Benjamin Smith

“I love it when you guys are down with the program,” remarked Gangstagrass guitarist and chieftain Rench as cultures deliriously clashed last night at Willie’s Locally Known.

The program, in this instance, was a musical mission that has been viewed over the past decade as a mash-up of bluegrass and hip-hop. The one hour, 45 minute performance revealed, however, that summation to be slightly inaccurate.

The very handmade musical fabric supplied by Rench, Dan Whitener and Landry McMeans on acoustic guitar, banjo and dobro respectively was more reflective of pre-bluegrass country music, especially works that generously emphasized their Appalachian ancestry, than what we have come to accept as bluegrass. Tempos were rougher, darker and slower than the string music brought forth in the post-Bill Monroe age. The approach could have almost been accepted as folk were it not for the looped beats that continually grooved under the tunes, from the show opening “I Go Hard” to the closing cover of the roots-music staple “Darlin’Cory (Dig a Hole in the Meadow)”.

That set-up made it easier to emcees R-Son and Dolio the Sleuth to bring the hip hop element to the evening. While deciphering their rhymes was often difficult given the show’s muddy sound mix, what resulted were songs where the three instrumentalists established the music’s traditionally minded accents through narratives the emcees would then mirror with more contemporary slants. Even the most familiar fare, such as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” was presented with a wild duality, interspersing vintage verses sung by the instrumentalists with modern rhymes based off those words by the emcees. The formula didn’t shift dramatically for original fare, either, like “Bound to Ride,” “Keep Talking” and the new “Nowhere to Run.”

The most elaborate example of this cross-generational song swapping came when Gangstagrass let its popular “Justified’ theme song “Long Hard Times to Come” bleed into a vigorous update of “Hard Times Come Again No More,” the folk-blues affirmation penned by Stephen Foster. The two songs, bolstered by McMeans’ amplified dobro runs that mimicked electric slide guitar, the emcees’ tireless performance drive and the unwavering confidence the full band displayed in making such disparate styles sound natural and unified showed how Gangstagrass was getting with its own program just as readily as its audience was.

in performance: california guitar trio

California Guitar Trio: Hideyo Moriya, Paul Richards and Bert Lams.

To recognize the scholarly technique and stylistic dexterity of the California Guitar Trio when appraising one of its concerts isn’t exactly detective work. The ensemble has stressed both traits with unassuming ease throughout its 27 year history, so much so that such a design has allowed the music it fashions for three acoustic guitars to remain both accessible and adventurous. In short, the game plan has long been standard operating procedure. The music and musicianship within it, however, remains anything but.

The CGT’s annual visit to the Kentucky Coffeetree Café last night in Frankfort, one of the most intimate venues the group plays on a regular basis, offered an especially well-rounded repertoire that embraced the familiar but emphasized the new.

The four selections that opened the 90 minute performance made for a refresher course of the band: a faithful cover of “Classical Gas,” the surf staple “Walk Don’t Run,” the Argentine folk-inspired original “Chacarera” and the slide blues-meet-Western mash-up “Train to Lamy Suite.” Collectively, all have made frequent rounds in CGT shows through the years. Last night, though, they provided a crash course in the textures, techniques and sheer stylistic cunning the band was capable of. For all their familiarity to CGT die-hards, the tunes all sounded fresh and immediate.

There were also less obvious entries, like the beautiful “Euphoria,” a relatively recent entry from CGT member Paul Richards that revolved around a light, spacious group melody that quickly dived into deeper, layered colors. While not exactly an obscurity, Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” returned after an extended absence from the CGT repertoire, but still boasted a richly percussive drive.

It was also a blast to hear two career-spanning originals by fellow CGT co-founder Hideyo Moriya played back to back – 1993’s “Kan-Non Power” (which strongly summoned the influence of group mentor Robert Fripp both in its percolating arpeggios and the long, sustained mock-electric sounds Richards created with pedal effects) and “Komorebi” (the title tune to the CGT’s 2017 album, which sported a considerably lighter, more openly atmospheric makeup).

Four new entries were also added to the CGT catalog last night – a beautifully fragile arrangement of Radiohead’s “Daydreaming” by the late Collin Landinguin, a jubilant take on the Ventures’ surf classic “Diamond Head,” a loose but extremely fun stab at the Beatles’ “Get Back” and a wonderfully textured work by Buenos Aires guitarist Alex Anthony Faide entitled “Where It Goes, We Go.”

Then it was back to CGT essentials to close the show with guitarist Bert Lams helping co-pilot the mix of cinematic ambience and drama within “Punta Patri” and an encore cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that underscored the sense of combustible fun that still sits at the heart of the trio’s immensely inventive and inviting music.

in performance: miranda lambert/jon pardi/the steel woods

Miranda Lambert and her band performing last night at Rupp Arena. Photo by Matt Goins.

Miranda Lambert divulged the game plan for her Rupp Arena return last night within the opening minutes of a vibrant, inviting and thematically far reaching performance. In that short space of time, she sang a storyline of homespun sensibility, one that was perhaps country in design but very worldly in its narrative scope – a trait that would play out in varying ways over the next hour and 45 minutes.

Curiously, the song in question wasn’t one of her own hits, but rather a cover of a 40 year old gem penned by one of America’s most revered and reflective songwriters, John Prine. The tune was “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round.” While Prine sang it originally (and still does today) with a hapless, wide-eyed reserve, Lambert plugged the tune in and turned it into an Americana carnival packing a searing electric jolt that was also a forecast what was to unfold.

What the Rupp crowd of 13,500 witnessed was, in essence, a kind of artistic duality. For die-hard fans, there were tunes full of rockish defiance that established Lambert’s musical reputation more than a decade ago – songs like “Kerosene” (which shot out of “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round” like a bottle rocket) and “Gunpowder and Lead.” Lambert’s voice, while hardly the epitome of country gumption, possessed a rockish might that, once detonated, sailed into upper registers to give these early tunes a properly anthemic authority.

But a considerable chunk of the show was devoted to newer music – specifically, a half dozen fine entries from 2016’s “The Weight of These Wings” album. Among the most expressive was “Vice,” a heartbreak tune cast in layers of elegiac cool but born out of an environment “where the numb meets the lonely.” Equally arresting was “Tin Man,” which echoed similar despondency (“Take it from me, darling, you don’t want a heart”) but without the orchestrated aid of Lambert’s eight member band. She instead performed the song alone with fitting but informal grace on acoustic guitar.

The crowd pleaser, though, came when Lambert welcomed Ashley Monroe and Martin County native (as well as one time Lexingtonian) Angaleena Presley onstage for an impromptu Pistol Annies outing. Though limited to a scant two songs (“Hell on Heels” and “Takin’ Pills”), the trio fully embraced and celebrated the electric independence of Lambert’s early music. It was, in essence, the diesel fuel that very much made her world go ‘round.

The evening’s two show openers – Jon Pardi and The Steel Woods were remote footnotes amid Lambert’s pageantry. While Pardi displayed an honest immediacy in his performance energy, songs like “Cowboy Hat” and “Head Over Boots” still came off as the sort of numskull Bro Country product that sounded like it was written in a corporate board room with an early afternoon deadline. The show-opening Steel Woods fared better by recalling Chris Stapleton during his Southern rocking Jompson Brothers days. Hats off, also, to Woods guitarist Jason Cope, who provided “Straw in the Wind” and a set opening cover of the 1982 John Anderson hit “Wild and Blue” with inventive, electric atmosphere.

in performance: the robert cray band

Robert Cray.

During a very brief tuning break between songs last night at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, Robert Cray plucked out a chord, took a beat to appraise his work and gave a quick summation of the discovered sound.


Then another chord and another slightly more demonstrative judgment.


Finally, a more developed lick emerged, full of the tone and lyrical clarity he seemed to be searching for. A louder verdict was reached.


A man of few words but many musical expressions – that’s our Cray. As one of the most dependable live acts on the blues and soul circuit, the Grammy winning guitarist and vocalist, along with his long-running band, wasn’t exactly full of surprises. Last night’s 90 minute concert possessed more of the same blues inspired R&B that has long defined both his vocal and guitar work for the last three-plus decades. But Cray was in no way going through roots-informed motions during the show. His playing was clean and precise but never antiseptic or stale in a way so many blues/soul artists can sound after a lifetime on the road.

For instance, during “Two Steps from the End” (the tune the “yeah, yeah, yeahs” led into), Cray’s soloing settled into an almost sinister cool that played off of the equally serene B3 organ orchestration of Dover Weinberg. But on “Move a Mountain” (a wonderful deep track pulled from 1990’s “Midnight Stroll” album), the guitar drive grew more muscular to sustain the tune’s punctuated drive. Then on “You Have My Heart” (one of six tunes performed from 2017’s “Robert Cray and Hi Rhythm,” his newest recording) and “Right Next Door” (a hit off of 1986’s career-making “Strong Persuader”), the guitar sound dipped low, bringing the full band to a luscious, organic fade.

There were similar dynamics to Cray’s singing, which has never received its proper due through the years. On the show opening “I Shiver,’ the 64 year artist effortlessly reached a crisp, high soul tenor. For “I Don’t Care,” he sailed just as readily into a ringing falsetto. The latter was one of several songs (“Fix This” and “Sadder Days” were others) possessing titles and lyrics that suggested a trip to the deeper abyss of the blues. But the music surrounding them was positively sunny, both in Cray’s jubilant guitar leads and the summery soul cast of his vocals.

Guess you really can’t judge a song by its title. Take “Phone Booth,” a 1983 Cray gem served up as one of two encore tunes (the mighty blues opus “Time Makes Two” was the other). The song’s desperate protagonist may have been calling from a phone booth, but none of the familiar fare the real Cray was dispensing last night was being phoned in.

in performance: the earls of leicester/early james and the latest

The Earls of Leicester, from left: Johnny Warren, Jeff White, Shawn Camp, Charlie Cushman, Jerry Douglas and Barry Bales.

During the closing moments of the Earls of Leicester’s sublime bluegrass summit last night the Opera House, banjoist Charlie Cushman stepped to the front microphone to offer a stunning bit of trivia. He stated it was 49 years ago to the evening that bluegrass forefathers Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, whose music largely forms the repertoire for the Earls (hence the band name), ended their pioneering musical alliance.

But the six member ensemble, under the direction of dobro colossus and one-time Lexingtonian Jerry Douglas, has made a mission out of rekindling audience interest in Flatt & Scruggs music by recording and performing it with a deftness both artful and playful. Last night, that legacy leapt to vibrant life with the opening strains of “Salty Dog Blues” and didn’t subside until Douglas reprised the famously mad bluegrass dash melody of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” on dobro after Cushman had set the tune’s mischievous spirit in motion.

In its most immediate terms, the approach the Earls took to the Flatt & Scruggs catalog was a presentation of scholarly taste. Douglas has long been known as an instrumental thrillseeker. But the musicians surrounding him were no less versed, especially fiddler Johnny Warren, a direct link to Flatt & Scruggs’ famed Foggy Mountain Boys band (where his father, Paul Warren, also played fiddle).

Similarly, Cushman was regularly in the driver’s seat, propelling the jubilant group charge of “Will You Be Lonesome, Too?” while navigating the tricky tuning shifts of “Earl’s Breakdown” with giddy assurance. Then there was guitarist Shawn Camp, whose vocal work underscored the cheer and soulfulness of Flatt & Scruggs’ music, even during devout gospel numbers like “Get in Line Brother.”

But none of this meant the Earls treated the performance as some kind of academic exercise. While the compositional efficiency of  these tunes precluded the sort of monster soloing Douglas reaches for with his more progressive minded projects, a luxurious glimpse was nonetheless revealed when he honored the great Josh Graves, the Foggy Mountain Boys’ dobro ace (and one of Douglas’ prime influences) during the instrumental turns of “Spanish Two Step.”

But perhaps the most moving and purposeful moment came when Douglas, Camp, Warren and mandolinist Jeff White stood around a single mic to sing “Reunion in Heaven,” a Flatt & Scruggs gospel song that dates back to the early 1950s. The Earls sang the tune in December at the funeral of mandolinist Curly Seckler, the last surviving member of the Foggy Mountain Boys. Douglas and his mates did more here that merely offer a tribute. They utilized the bluegrass tradition that defines the Earls’ very existence to provide such extraordinary vintage music with a whole new sense of purpose and place.

A bonus to last night’s program was an opening set that introduced a fine acoustic guitar and upright bass duo from Birmingham, Ala. called Early James and the Latest. The modus operandi here was pure blues – ghostly, rapturous, meditative blues (as shown by the set-opening “Dig to China”) along with merrier, rag-inspired juke joint works (typified by “Taste of Sin” and “Gravy Train”). Both extremes were fleshed out with wiry and often eerie authority through the vocals of guitarist James and orchestrated by the subtle but very complete bass support of Adrian Marmolejos. Keep an eye and ear out for these guys.

in performance: rudresh mahanthappa with the osland/dailey jazztet

rudresh mahanthappa. photo by ethan levitas

It began more like a séance than a jazz concert. With the rhythm section of Lexington’s Osland/Dailey Jazztet playing under him last night at the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall, Rudresh Mahanthappa played an Eastern-infused wail in a register so low and open, one had to do a double take to confirm it was indeed coming out of an alto saxophone. The tune, “Bird Calls #1,” was the leadoff piece from a 2015 album (“Bird Calls”) Mahanthappa cut of original music based on composed and improvised melodies by Charlie Parker. But what surfaced here seemed more like something from the church of John Coltrane. Then the music collapsed into “On the DL,” which took a lyrical nod from Parker’s “Donna Lee” but accelerated at such a treacherous gallop that Mahanthappa’s dizzying solos soared past you like mile markers on a highway. What resulted was a muscular jazz sound that was an aural thrill ride, full of warp speed solos undercut by muscular, though often unexpected senses of swing.

A globally acclaimed jazz bandleader, educator and instrumentalist (he was named Alto Saxophonist of the Year in Downbeat magazine’s International Critics’ Poll six out of the last seven years), Mahanthappa used much of the 90 minute performance with the Osland/Dailey Jazztet as his band to redress the music of “Bird Calls.” In fact, six of the set’s nine tunes were pulled from the album. On the record, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill was the second horn player and Mahanthappa’s primary musical foil. Last night, University of Kentucky jazz pro Miles Osland, a second alto sax man, co-piloted the fun. Despite the mirroring instrumentation, there were remarkable contrasts revealed within the playing, from the criss-crossing solos within “Chillin’” to the artful tempo shifts during “Maybe Later “ that keenly accelerated the swing as the tune concluded.

Perhaps the most curious tradeoff took place during one the evening’s few journeys outside of “Bird Calls.” For the 2010 piece “Playing with Stones,” bassist Danny Cecil used an extended bass solo rich in texture and expression that enhanced the composition’s ominous ambience before Mahanthappa and pianist Raleigh Dailey played solos off each other.

A sumptuous ballad, “My Sweetest,” along with a playful, punctuated outro snippet titled “Man, Thanks for Coming” (which returned the repertoire to “Bird Calls” with references to Parker’s “Anthropology”) wound the set down with the former favoring a slice of ensemble reflection that faded into a playfully aggressive solo from Mahanthappa and the latter exhibiting a brief but potent reprise of the rhythmic twists and animated turns that colored so much of this enchanting performance.

in performance: anteloper/josh berman

josh berman.

Outside the Spotlight quietly celebrated its 15th anniversary last night with a double bill performance at the Farish Theatre that showcased two disparate – and, at times, almost conflicting – versions of the improvisational music scope that has long been the thrust of the concert series.

First up was a sublime solo cornet set by Josh Abrams. For roughly 45 minutes, the Chicago instrumentalist and composer offered a striking sampler of tunes (most of which came from his 2015 album “A Dance and a Hop”) that underscored a fascinating balance between blues and bop related compositional lines and free improvisation. Distinguishing works like “Hang Ups” and “Time” was a rich, lyrical tone that often darkened and expanded as it stretched into appealing, atmospheric registers before softening as resulting phrases splintered upon re-entry.

There were times Berman added punctured honks of airy resonance and an instance where a small, thin sheet of metal was held to the bell of the horn to create a rippling, percussive effect. Mostly though, what was most arresting was the subtle immediacy of the performance. Berman was clearly working without any preconceived playbook of solos and ideas. His improvisations, though assured, were wonderfully complete and spontaneous reactions to the tunes’ fully composed sections. The audience responded with a level of studious quiet so sustained that the mere taps of Berman’s fingers on the horn could be heard as he played.

A second set by trumpeter Jaimie Branch and Jason Nazary – billed collectively as Anteloper – was considerably more problematic as both artists doubled on analog electronics that weighed down their performance almost from the onset.

Branch is a gifted improviser on the horn, but with the exception of a few brief instances late in the duo’s hour-long set, she offered only fractured trumpet phrases repeated over the electronics with minimal variance. Ditto for Nazary, whose workmanlike playing revolved around succesive rhythms that gave little insight into any kind of soloing demeanor. There was an allure to some of the more sinuously textured moments the two created. But with a single, uncredited piece taking up the entire hour, the electronic ambience of the music became burdensome and static.

in performance: alan jackson/lauren alaina

Alan Jackson performing last night at Rupp Arena. Herald-Leader staff photos by Rich Copley.

“I’ve come here to play you some real country music.”

Those were the rather comforting words Alan Jackson used to greet a crowd of 9,500 last night at Rupp Arena. But the veteran Georgia-born hitmaker didn’t exactly have to stretch his stylistic reputation to keep his promise. The just-shy-of-two hour set offered a confident, no frills and, at times, astonishingly laid back grab bag of ballads, shuffles and non-threatening party pieces. All were set to the lead of unassuming and conversational tenor vocals that have aged quite nicely over the nearly three decades Jackson has been sending songs up the charts. Ditto for his band, the Strayhorns, a troupe of quiet instrumental scholars with remarkable picking skills and an even a greater sense of taste in knowing when and when not to show them off.

What distinguished the performance from the dozen or so other times Jackson has played Rupp since his debut there as an opening act for Randy Travis in 1991 (all subsequent visits have been as a headliner) was how much the country music environment has shifted around him. With the touring retirement of George Strait, Jackson is now the genre’s reigning elder traditionalist. But the crown hardly sits heavy on him. From the assured swagger of the show-opening “Gone Country” to the sit-down solemnity of “Here in the Real World” to the easygoing sentimentalism of “Remember When,” Jackson dispensed songs with simple, unaffected candor and a host of between song stories that came across convincingly as back porch confessions of sorts.

Sometimes the music heated up, as in a nicely electric take of “Summertime Blues” keenly timed to counter winter doldrums. In other instances, it moved with pure honky tonk flair, as typified by the still sterling drive of “Don’t Rock the Jukebox.” Curiously, one of the biggest delights was a brand new tune, a sagely bit of reflection titled “The Older I Get” that Jackson performed for the first time last night. In less practiced hands, the song would have been dowsed in angst-heavy pathos. Jackson, however, performed it with a cool but very knowing assertiveness, making the work a striking new snapshot in his real world country canon.

Lauren Alaina opened last night’s Rupp show.

From stylistic standpoint, show opener Lauren Alaina sounded like she came from another galaxy. The 23 year old singer understandably favored a far more contemporary slant to her songs, most of which she wrote or co-wrote. Musically, a frequent coupling of electric banjo and loop-style percussion grooves underscored her songs. But what drove everything was a turbo-charge vocal wail that rather cleanly ignited songs like “Georgia Peaches,” “Next Boyfriend” and the self-image anthem “Road Less Taken.” The latter threw the career of this one-time “American Idol” runner up into overdrive last year.

But the show stopper was “Three,” a reflection of childhood aspirations dashed and realized. More specifically, it was Alaina’s honestly emotive introduction to the tune that sparked the set. The audience nicely kept her in check, however. Prior to shedding a few tears, she explained she had recently learned to play piano for when she performed the song. That triggered a good natured and very audible wisecrack from the audience – “So don’t screw it up.” That defused the drama, sent the singer into a fit of laughter and cemented a rather arresting moment within a very earnest set.

in performance: the lexington philharmonic with byron stripling

byron stripling.

The Lexington Philharmonic spent the final hours of 2017 in glorious disguise. With a guest conductor, a heavily altered instrumental design and an exclusively non-classical program, it operated very much as a jazz orchestra. Given the “Jazz Night” theme promoted for last night’s Opera House performance, that was to be somewhat expected. But instead of a standard pops-style presentation, this was a complete, evening-only makeover.

First off, musical director Scott Terrell yielded the conductor’s podium to Ohio jazzman Byron Stripling, whose boisterous spirit set the mood for the evening the moment he walked onstage. But by juggling duties as vocalist and trumpeter (the first with an operatic, deep and exact tenor; the second with similarly precise and expressive tonality), as well as serving as emcee and, to an extent, raconteur, Stripling’s time at the podium turned out to be somewhat limited.

But this was a very different Philharmonic in operation. By deemphasizing percussion and much of the woodwinds outside of saxophones, the orchestra was dominated by strings and brass with the further unorthodox addition of a piano-bass-drums rhythm section to propel a very purposeful sense of swing. While that obviously changed the entire musical fabric of the orchestra, it didn’t compromise the program’s abundant joy and luster.

Though Stripling, Miche Braden and tap dancer Ted Louis Levy traded off vocal duties, one of the evening’s highlights was when the jazz orchestration was let loose on its own to explore to the gorgeous dynamics within Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” With so much of the performance devoted to Jeff Tyzik-arranged swing classics immortalized by Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Cab Calloway, hearing the Ellington chestnut’s more subtle beauty nicely showcased the range of the realigned Philharmonic.

Stripling, Braden and Levy all had numerous standout moments. Stripling effortlessly channeled the blues-packed drive of the Calloway signature tune “Minnie the Moocher” while Braden offered a more regal sense of sass with the help of a hearty also saxophone solo from veteran Lexington jazzman Miles Osland (who played an integral part in the Philharmonic’s jazz transformation throughout the program) on the Bessie Smith/Billie Holiday popularized “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer.” Levy’s deft tap work also ignited a highly animated take on the Depression Era pick-me-up “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile.”

The vaudeville-style antics and attitude adopted between songs by the three guest artists wore thin at times, but that’s a minor quibble. The jazz age fun summoned by a performance that clearly took the Philharmonic way outside its comfort zone was largely shatterproof. Here’s hoping for another such detour before the next New Year is ushered in.

in performance: bela fleck and abigail washburn

Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck.

Sure, a festive spirit dominated the evening seeing as this was the year’s final performance for the evening’s featured artists, as well the last taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour before a winter break commenced. In keeping with the mood, husband-and-wife banjo all-stars Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn served up nine songs where the banjos did almost all of the work, from blends of old time and progressive styles to segments where the strings maneuvered through everything from dazzling lyrical runs to unanticipated bass patterns.

But let’s get to the highlight of tonight’s year-end WoodSongs taping at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, one that didn’t involve a single note of music. At the program’s half-way point, Mayor Jim Gray came to the stage and proclaimed Dec. 18, 2017 as Bela Fleck Day. The audience, needless to say, went nuts, especially considering that embedded within the banjo pioneer’s extensive dossier is the often forgotten fact that for two years (1979-1981) Fleck called Lexington home. So, yes, Christmas came a week early for banjo enthusiasts in a program already overflowing with glad tidings.

Perhaps expectedly, the music was a stunning product of players with differing generational styles – clawhammer and pre-bluegrass “old time music” (Washburn) and bluegrass-rooted inspirations that regularly reached through jazz and especially classical references to create remarkable displays of speed, deftness and technique.

The resulting mixture quickly surfaced in the set-opening “Railroad,” which tossed the familiar folk work song into a minor key, darkening melodic edges nicely as a result. That allowed the traditional purity of Washburn’s singing (deceptively delicate at times, robustly commanding at others) to anchor the tune while Fleck’s typically tireless agility let the tune take flight.

The following seven songs all came from the couple’s second and newest album, “Echo in the Valley” and displayed a richness in variety, delivery and emotive clarity. An instrumental medley of two traditional tunes (“Sally in the Garden” and “Molly Put the Kettle On”), with a ‘90s era Fleck original (“Big Country”) sandwiched in between, highlighted the traditional/progressive merger. Washburn’s gentle vocal intro on the following “If I Could Talk to a Younger Me” briefly downshifted the set to focus on quieter lyrical expression before Fleck again hit the accelerator.

From there, the evening took a dramatic side road by transforming the harrowing “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains” into a rugged blues complete with slide banjo colors from Fleck and vocals from Washington that patiently built into a boil. On the flip side, Washburn turned to percussion for “Take Me to Harlan” – specifically, clogging on an amplified floorboard in the manner popularized decades ago by the late John Hartford.

The sobering “Come All You Miners” and the more hopeful gospel standard “His Eye is on the Sparrow” were served as encores, underscoring the inspirational breadth of the set and the shared artistic vocabulary Fleck and Washburn have developed as a performance duo.

That the couple’s four year old son Juno joined them onstage for the finale as an onlooker rather than musical participant provided an inviting family accent. But let’s not forget the occasion, folks. This was Bela Fleck Day. Then again, that title pretty much applies to any day the foremost banjo innovator of our day returns to an old haunt of a hometown.

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