Posts Tagged ‘bluegrass’

Smiles all around with Abigail Washburn

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Abigail Washburn

I’m not sure I’ve ever photographed as many smiling and laughing musicians as I did tonight at Abigail Washburn‘s performance at the Cedar Cultural Center. Washburn’s Americana is more beautiful than joyful on record, but this was a feel-good concert if I’ve ever seen one. Which makes sense, as it was a homecoming of sorts; Washburn went to high school in nearby Edina and apparently has a lot of family and friends still in the area.

Abigail Washburn

While Washburn’s banjo playing is beyond reproach, it was her voice that really captivated me. In particular, her performance of a Chinese folk song – she’s a scholar of Chinese music and fluent in Mandarin – was amazingly powerful. A second Chinese song, this one a Tibetan children’s song set to a bluegrassy instrumental backing, was a gorgeous and moving meshing of the two cultures. Aside from these Chinese songs, much the setlist was drawn from Washburn’s new record, City of Refuge. It’s a nice recording, and the songs really came alive tonight, helped on by the band’s high spirits. A highlight for me was the closing of the first set: the initial vocal melody of “Burn Thru” burst through an amorphously noisy between-song segue like a warm sunrise, and the rest of the song with its beautifully plaintive harmonies was a truly heartfelt way to head into an intermission. Anyone who was on the fence about sticking around for the second set probably had their minds made up for them.

Abigail Washburn

Photographically, this show made full use of the Cedar’s lighting rig, although the color balance was decidedly deep in the incandescent and red range for most of the show. I shot three songs crouched in front of the seated audience, and then spent the rest of the show sniping from the back and sides with a long lens. ISO 3200 did the trick perfectly well, except for when I was up close with my 85/1.4, in which case ISO 800 was more than sufficient.

Here are a few more favorites:

Abigail Washburn

Abigail Washburn

Abigail Washburn

Full set at Flickr.

Crooked Still at the Cedar Cultural Center

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Crooked Still

So, here in Minneapolis I live within three blocks of at least three major live music venues, which is, you know, convenient. Last night Mary and I investigated one of these venues, the Cedar Cultural Center – a venue that reminded me a lot of the Birchmere near DC. It’s a similar size, the stage and lighting is the exact same kind of thing (minus the Birchmere’s weird painted stage backdrop), and the booking is a subset of the Birchmere’s more interesting stuff, namely the world and folk end of things. Last night’s booking was bluegrass quintet Crooked Still, a collection of fantastic musicians playing both standards and originals.

Crooked Still

The lighting was quite nice, though I did have to push up to ISO 4000 or so to get decent shutter speeds, and set a custom white balance to deal with some strangely yellow incandescent cans. The layout of the venue made shooting tough: the show was seated (and absolutely packed!) and there was no room between the front row and the stage, so I was limited to aisles and the back and extreme sides of the venues. Never did quite get the angles I wanted, but I got some decent stuff crouching in the center aisle.

Crooked Still

Unfortunately for my photos, aside from the flamboyantly expressive banjo player, the band didn’t really loosen up until well after the first three songs. Fortunately for my music appreciation, they put on an awesome show. More photos at Flickr.