Abigail Washburn live in Asheville, NC
My love for the new Abigail Washburn record has been documented here before, when I prefaced my interview with her back during SXSW (it remains one of my favorite records of the year). During that insanity of a music festival, I was able to catch Washburn’s set only once, and only for a couple of songs. The sound system there wasn’t working – they stood on a bench and sung out to the room without amplification. It was one of my favorite moments from the whole week.
But, seeing a full band on a proper stage in a sizable venue, with plenty of sound amplification and balancing, is nothing to poo-poo, and so I headed out to the Orange Peel here in Asheville last week to catch Abby and the band opening for the Wood Brothers.
It was a terrific show. Washburn is one hell of a performer, capturing her audience with a certain quiet, welcoming charisma. It doesn’t hurt that her band is stellar, particularly with the presence of Kai Welch (who has an album of his own coming out this summer). The artistic chemistry between Welch and Washburn is strong, and it’s easy to feel the still-new energy in the songs they play from City of Refuge.
Speaking of easy-to-feel energy, this band calls themselves the Village, no doubt in part because of the sheer size of the troupe. With sound person and other entourage, they probably travel like a small village, and their musical gifts and personalities seem to intertwine like one.
A day or two before they arrived in Asheville, they were staying at a friend’s house in Knoxville, Tenn. After playing a daytime set somewhere, they all went back to the house, switched into their pajamas, and collapsed into naps. All of a sudden, there was banging on the door and they rose to find the house had been voraciously approached by the police. With guns drawn and pointed at Abigail and the Village, the cops commanded the troupe out of the house with their hands over their heads and told them to “get down.” Turned out, as Abigail explained from the stage, someone saw the band’s vehicles and thought they were burgling the house. When they explained they were friends with the person who owned the house, the cop called to verify and confusedly declared them a band of traveling “magicians.”
Quite a story, and quite a segue from that to the song they in turn dedicated to the officer – a number titled “Chains” from the new record:
Running out of time standing still
Something’s gotta change or nothing will
You gotta leave your home
Rattle all your bones
And shake off your chains…
But that was only the beginning.
The crowd flipped when out walked Bela Fleck to play with the band for nearly half the show. Trading licks with the fiddle section, Fleck unleashed some seriously remarkable, fiery picking while the blissed-out crowd watched through their video cameras and iPhones, feverishly capturing the surprise appearance.
For all the remarkably inventive arrangements of the original songs they played from City of Refuge, though, it was the old gospel tunes which seemed most moving on this particular night. “Divine Bell” got the crowd singing back Baptist-style. “Keys to the Kingdom” was another room-wide singalong, with the full band playing acoustic and unplugged in front of the monitors. (Plenty of snapping along from the crowd, too.) About three-quarters of the way through the tune, something…surprising happened. I could tell you with words, but I’ll let the video do it for you:
Where this video cuts off, the band stood around for a spell looking at each other with “What the hell do we do now?” expressions on their faces, before one of the Wood Brothers appeared to lend his bass and save the day. The crowd went nuts, the bass solo picked up where it left off, and the band finished the song like nothing happened. Pros.