Just before we went off on our bluegrass-festivals odyssey, we were fortunate enough to experience the music of Abigail Washburn once more. At the end of August, Abigail and her collaborator Kai Welch were at Sheffield Greystones to play their only “regular” gig among a raft of UK summer festivals. It was a triumphant return to this cracking venue after their last visit in January 2011 (complete with “The Village” which included Rayna Gellert and Brittany Haas on twin fiddles) which turned out to be one of the best gigs I have ever been to. Things were slightly quieter on this occasion (they’d have to be), but it was still a lively evening of wonderful music, in front of another sell-out audience here in the Backroom.
Once again we were treated to the very highest quality singing and playing from both Abigail (banjo & cello banjo) and Kai (guitar, trumpet, keyboards). But this duo offers more than just great musicianship and songwriting – they brim over with that extra something special, something you might call soul, good humour or charisma. Whatever it is, it allows them to really connect with their audience as well as making their musical partnership extremely successful. On this evening in Sheffield they were also joined on several tracks by local musicians: virtuosic young fiddle player Sam Sweeney (Bellowhead, the Fay Hield Trio and more), and briefly by folk luminary Martin Simpson, who played some lovely slide guitar on Pretty Polly. Other highlights of the set were Keys to the Kingdom, with sombre trumpet accompaniment by Kai; a slightly bonkers but striking Chinese folk song (which I can never remember the name of) complete with hand gestures; and a wonderfully evocative Bright Morning Stars, which was prefaced by a haunting hardanger fiddle intro from Sam.
The following night we went along to a Folk Night just a few miles from our home. This was hosted by the folks who run Edibles, a small farm business which grows food for sale locally and runs a plant nursery as well as courses and activity days. Partner Rosie and her family are also involved in making music and their latest venture, the Cowshed, has recently started hosting musical events. As the family was hosting Abigail and Kai during their couple of days in Yorkshire, we were fortunate that they participated in this wonderfully intimate evening of music, along with local-ish bands Milk Punx and The Stalks.
We got to meet and chat with some really interesting people, both neighbours from the local community and musicians who had come along to jam. Sam Sweeney was back for more, joining Abigail and Kai on the Cowshed stage, as did local bodhran/percussion talent Cormac Byrne (Seth Lakeman band, Uiscedwr) and fiddler Rowan Rheingans (Lady Maisery). A bunch of us got stuck in, helping to turn out an endless supply of home-made pizzas from the outdoor wood oven, and after the performances were over, jamming and singing went on into the early hours in front of the giant wood burning stove. It was a really, really special night, and one that I won’t forget in a hurry.