Saturday, husband and wife duo Shovels and Rope brought a modern taste of Appalchian folk to Jazz Fest’s Sheraton New Orleans Fais-Do-Do Stage. On Sunday, it was married couple Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn’s turn.
“Some of you are realizing in horror that all you’re going to hear on this stage are banjos,” Fleck said after the two played an instrumental that matched her more traditional approach to his bluegrass fusion. Their banjos were the only instruments on the stage for the song and the set.
That instrumental was the set’s most prog/new age moment. More often, bluegrass was at the heart of the set. Fleck displayed his remarkable technique and imagination in a lengthy solo piece that eventually morphed into”The Ballad of Jed Clampett”--”The Beverly Hillbillies” theme--by bluegrass icons Flatt and Scruggs.
Washburn was the voice of the show, and despite her disarming demeanor, she gave the show gravity.
She sang “Rise Above,” for example, from the perspective of a coal miner’s wife bitter as her husband’s health deteriorated. When she railed against the “dirty capitalist system,” a surprising number of people cheered.
In “Shotgun Blues,” Washburn was more subtly subversive, inverting the murder ballad tradition so that it’s the man, not the woman as usual, whose killed.
Fleck and Washburn’s provocative streak was only one part of their musical palate. The show was periodically political but always beautiful. They performed a Chinese folk song, which Washburn sang with with country expressiveness. The song’s sweetness transcended language, so when she announced that the title translated to “the sun rises,” no one could have been surprised.