Strumming her banjo and singing in English and Chinese, Abigail Washburn performed traditional American music last night at the Cotton Club with three esteemed bandmates. Playing a mix of bluegrass, country, gospel and old-time music, the former Beijing resident was joined by eight-time Grammy winner Béla Fleck who is
considered the best banjo player in the world. With Casey Driessen on the fiddle and Ben Sollee on the cello, the packed club audience enjoyed a musical treat of a quality rarely found in Shanghai.
The quartet played some shows in Beijing last week as part of a tour organized by Jon Campbell of YGTwo. Monday night they performed for invited guests at the US Consulate in Shanghai, and Tuesday they also jammed for the Communist Youth League and the Shanghai Conservatory. Washburn, a Nettwerk Records (Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan) recording artist has recently released her solo debut, Song of the Traveling Daughter. Two songs on the album are original compositions with Chinese lyrics including the title track, a riff on the classic Meng Jiao poem 游子吟 (“Song of the Traveling Son”).
Béla Fleck, despite having caught a cold, displayed the mastery that has earned him 20 Grammy nominations across more categories than anyone in Grammy history. When two hands wasn’t enough, he pressed his nose to the fretboard for an amazing and amusing end to a 10 minute solo breakdown. Casey Driessen showcased his signature rhythmic “chop” style that he applies to the Tim O’Brien Band, Steve Earle’s Bluegrass Dukes, and the Béla Fleck Acoustic Trio. And at only 22 years old, Kentucky native Ben Sollee, whose unique blend of jazz and folk styles has propelled him to perform alongside jazz great Cassandra Wilson and blues legend Buddy Guy, brought down the house with a solo vocal and cello interpretation of Prince‘s “When Doves Cry“. Bravo!
Photo from Monday’s show at the U.S. Consulate by Shanghai Streets. Have photos from Tuesday night? Share them with us.