Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn are partners on and off stage, and it shows.
The closely synced duo performed Saturday night at Red Cliffs Lodge, performing a set list that included songs from their forthcoming album, Echo in the Valley. The pair showed off fancy finger work from Fleck and fancy footwork as Washburn, who added clogging to her usual performance repertoire of singing and banjo playing.
Echo in the Valley, which will be released Oct. 6 on the Rounder Records label, is the second full album that the pair has made together. Their first album, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, won the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Folk Album. This follow up album is described as “a deep exploration of the complexities of the banjo duet,” in a news release from their publicist.
Fleck is known for his work with the bands New Grass Revival and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, not to mention the 15 Grammy Awards he has won in a variety of genres.
The show marked Fleck’s third time at the Moab Music Festival but the first time that he was accompanied by Washburn, his wife and fellow musician.
“I’ve loved my previous two experiences, with Marcus Roberts and with Chick Corea,” Fleck told The Times-Independent. “I deeply appreciate that the festival is interested in the various things I love to do, especially this one with my talented wife, vocalist and banjoist, Abigail Washburn.”
Washburn is a career musician in her own right. In contrast to Fleck’s bluegrass-style banjo picking, Washburn plays the older, strumming-style known as clawhammer banjo.
Washburn, who lived in China for several years before pursuing her music career, performed with the old-time groups Uncle Earl and the Sparrow Quartet, as well as with the “kung fu-Appalachian avant-garde folk-rock” experimental group the Wu Force before the couple recorded their eponymous album.
The concert went well, according to festival director Laura Brown.
“Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn are the most delightful couple … I liked that they tried new things out on our audience and everybody I think had a really good time,” Brown said. “It was an easy concert … they’re not high maintenance and [the concert] was really wonderful.”
For Echo in the Valley, the couple worked together to explore new topics and styles, Fleck said.
“Abby and I dug into new ground this time, and that was the hardest and the best part of the project,” Fleck said. “There were times when each of us had to surrender their point of view to find a shared one, in particular during the lyric writing process. This was really good for us as married couple, and as friends.”
To stay innovative in their partnership, Fleck and Washburn kept the focus on new ideas, Fleck said.
“Basically you set aside some time and you work on some new ideas until you think you have something worth building on and then you just keep on working on those ideas until you can actually come up with something,” Fleck said. “We got into trying to look for things we hadn’t done before
Fleck cited their new song “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” as an example of that creative collaboration.
“[It’s] kind of about the political situation these days and how,” Fleck said. “So many people are so demoralized, you know, on both sides, for different reasons but we’ve put it into a song that we’re pretty proud of because musically it’s a high jump for us. It’s the kind of thing we wouldn’t have really thought we would do. It goes more into … rhythm ideas that I might do with the Flecktones, but it’s just got a very catchy melody. It’s a whole album full of new things to try between our banjos and Abby’s incredible voice.”
The Moab Music Festival extends through Monday, Sept. 11. For more information, please visit the festival website at www.moabmusicfest.org.