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Feb 15 Judah & The Lion Knoxville, TN “Friend of a friend” is the way it all came together, three very different people from very different places, united by a shared love of music. As a band, Judah & the Lion owes much to fate and to the small town feel of Nashville, the city that brought the trio together from scattered parts of the country. The three met while attending Belmont University in the city, introduced to each other through music and mutual friends.“We all had similar stories, despite the fact that we’d grown up in different places,” explains mandolin player Brian Macdonald, “Judah is the Southerner, I’m the Chicago city slicker, and Nate is the laidback, bearded Rocky Mountain guy.”One listen and you can hear the influence of each of their youths. Judah Akers in his Tennessee hometown, listening to the soulful crackle of Ray Charles records, Nate Zuercher, a Colorado kid into rugged rock’n’roll, Macdonald driving through the suburbs of Chicago, blasting everything from Frank Sinatra to Billy Joel.Somehow, all these sounds have come together in Judah & the Lion – the old school sincerity of Southern gospel and soul, the energy of rock and the time-tested pop of classics and hits from the past. And through it all, there is the sound too – of their shared obsession, the feverishly nostalgic twang of bluegrass, country and traditional folk music. Judah & the Lion is a modern pop band with a feel as old as hills and holler, Akers’ topical lyricism matched with the familiar feel traditional instrumentation – mandolin, banjo and the kind of vocal harmonies that make the heart ache.“We’re all very different people but it has been obvious since the day we met that we should make music together,” says banjo-player Nate Zuercher, “Though we’re different, we have similar philosophies as to what is important in life and that is a huge part of what keeps us going strong. We know it is important to enjoy where you’re at, to love the people you’re with and live a bold and passionate life. That looks different for each of us but allows us to relate and understand each other.” learn more
Feb 20 Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn Knoxville, TN Sure, in the abstract, a banjo duo might seem like a musical concept beset by limitations. But when the banjo players cast in those roles are Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck—she with the earthy sophistication of a postmodern, old-time singer-songwriter, he with the virtuosic, jazz-to-classical ingenuity of an iconic instrumentalist and composer with bluegrass roots— it’s a different matter entirely. There’s no denying that theirs is a one-of-a-kind pairing, with one-of-a-kind possibilities. Fleck and Washburn have collaborated in the past, most visibly in their Sparrow Quartet with Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee. Until last fall, though, any performances they gave as a two-piece were decidedly informal, a pickin’ party here, a benefit show at Washburn’s grandmother’s Unitarian church there. It was inevitable and eagerly anticipated by fans of tradition-tweaking acoustic fare that these partners in music and life (who married in 2009) would eventually do a full-fledged project together. Now that Fleck, a fifteen-time GRAMMY winner, has devoted time away from his standard-setting ensemble Béla Fleck and the Flecktones to a staggeringly broad array of musical experiments, from writing a concerto for the Nashville Symphony to exploring the banjo’s African roots to jazz duos with Chick Corea, while Washburn has drawn critical acclaim for her solo albums, done fascinating work in folk musical diplomacy in China, presented an original theatrical production, contributed to singular side groups Uncle Earl and The Wu-Force and become quite a live draw in her own right, the two of them decided they were ready to craft their debut album as a duo, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn (releasing October 7 on Rounder Records).There was one other small, yet not at all insignificant factor in the timing: the birth of their son Juno. Says Fleck, “I come from a broken home, and I have a lot of musician friends who missed their kids’ childhoods because they were touring. The combination of those two things really made me not want to be one of those parents. I don’t want to be somebody that Juno sees only once in a while. We need to be together, and this is a way we can be together a whole lot more.” learn more
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