Individually acclaimed for their respective decades of fantastic individual work, folk and Tex-Mex infused indie rock duo Calexico and indie folk troubadour Iron & Wine first teamed up for a collective release way back in ’05, a fan-favorite EP called In the Reins. Though they remained friendly and occasionally guested on each other’s work in the ensuing years, their individual journeys saw their careers diverge. That is, until last year, when the beloved artists teamed up once more, this time for a full-length- Years to Burn. Recorded here in Nashville, the LP has also inspired Calexico and Iron & Wine to hit the road for a joint tour (where they all perform together each night with an array of backing players), a run which will make a stop at the perfectly-suited Ryman Auditorium tonight, Feb. 11! And with Nashville residents and acclaimed folk and bluegrass duo Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn tapped to open, it’s certainly looking like one of the winter’s hottest tickets. You can snag your spot right here while tickets last, then read on for more about the show!
CALEXICO + IRON & WINE
Tracing their roots all the way back to the ’90s, when core creative duo Joey Burns and John Convertino met and first began playing together in California, initially in a project called Giant Sand, genre-bending Americana and Tex-Mex infused indie rock outfit Calexico had already relocated to Tucson, Arizona with their prior group before splitting off and spending some time as a backing rhythm section for various projects before formally forming Calexico in 1996. Named for the border town of Calexico, California, the band’s moniker near perfectly sums up their culture-fusing sound, steeped in American folk, alt country, and Americana, as well as Tejano and Latin traditions, effortlessly embodying their desert and southwest surroundings while also keeping an eye on more modern indie and post-rock stylings. Cutting their teeth with acts like Pavement and Lambchop, and later even touring with acclaimed rockers Arcade Fire, while also becoming a regular fixture at major festivals, Calexico- the core of Burns and Convertino, plus a huge host of talented backing and live players- have spent the last near two and half decades crafting countless fantastic and always sonic boundary-pushing releases, adored by critics and a cult following of fans which has kept them steadily successful for years, and always a live favorite whenever they pass through town.
The live alias of modern indie folk icon Sam Beam, Iron & Wine, another beloved musical fixture, found prominence in the early ’00s, and has continued to rise in stature, craft new music at a prolific clip, and maintain a cult following ever since. Raised in South Carolina, Beam attended college in Virginia and Florida, studying art and film, and spent time as a professor before transforming years of a songwriting in a viable musical career, eventually attracting the attention of taste making label Sub Pop, who released his debut LP in 2002, and launched a decade and a half run that has made Iron & Wine a beloved and enduring musical figure. It was 2004’s sophomore effort, Our Endless Numbered Days, that brought broader attention and critical acclaim to the project (often stripped down and acoustic, though regularly fleshed out with backing players), and, the same year it was released, a cover version of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” originally a b-side, found its way onto the Garden State soundtrack and a national commercial, widening Iron & Wine’s crossover appeal. 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog proved to be another instant classic, and helped cement Beam as widely heralded songwriter, touring the world, finding prominent musical placements and collaborations, and becoming a regular fixture on the festival circuit. After a few years of collaborative efforts (notably, records with Ben Bridwell and Jesca Hoop), Iron & Wine released their six full-length and first proper LP in four years, Beast Epic, in 2017, marking a return to a more simplistic, deconstructed presentation and personal style.
Linked together now for a number of years, Beam’s first formal collaboration with Burns and Convertino came on 2005 collaborative EP In the Reins, the earliest example of the singer-songwriter branching out to work with other artists, and a pivotal expansion of his sound between two fan-favorite LPs. During the following decade, the artists occasionally appeared on each other’s work and even shared some backing players, but as years passed, In the Reins seemed like a one-time phenomenon. That is, until late 2018, when the trio, along with players from each of their groups, entered the studio right here in Nashville to team up for a full-length followup (and first properly collaborative record from the writing stage on, as Beam wrote all of the songs on their early EP), Years to Burn, released under the title Calexico and Iron & Wine. A gloriously and intricate fusing of their shared sensibilities, the album, an eclectic, layered, and dynamic alt rock jaunt, arrived last year to critical acclaim, and has prompted the trio to tour as a unit, performing both their collective and individual songs together on the road. Their first shared performance in Nashville (though separately, they’ve all passed through plenty), this should be an especially monuments homecoming as the trio return to where their first full-length was conceived!
BÉLA FLECK + ABIGAIL WASHBURN
Chances are you’ve heard of at least one half (and mostly likely both) of the show’s fantastic openers, Nashville’s own Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn. Legendary musician Béla Fleck has pushed the boundaries of the banjo farther than any other performer. The man is essentially the face of contemporary banjo music, and has really proven that the instrument is versatile and sounds great outside of the bluegrass realm. Of course, Fleck isn’t afraid to strum traditional country and bluegrass tunes either, and is a driving force in new grass, contemporary jazz fusion, and folk, having previously garnered acclaim for his group Béla Fleck and the Flecktones (who still remain intermittently active after reforming in 2016). Béla Fleck’s wife and co-performer Abigail Washburn is no less talented of a player and songwriter. Besides her work with her husband and extensive solo career, she’s also performed on a number of experimental tunes and, most notably as one third of the Wu Force. In 2013, Washburn and Fleck gave birth to a son. Seeing as their respective musical careers required extensive touring and time away from each other and their home here in Nashville, they decided to reorganize their projects to become duo act, both as a logical fusion of their sound and an extension of their family life. In 2014, the pair debuted a self-titled full length featuring just two banjos and their voices; a simple yet beautiful work that managed to hit number on the Billboard Bluegrass charts. An instant hit in the folk, bluegrass, and Americana scene, the pair have since followed up with a 2015 EP, Banjo Banjo, and another full-length, Echo in the Valley, in 2017. Legendary in their own right and an incredible sonic compliment to Calexico and Iron & Wine, Nashvillians should already know that showing up early is a must!
Calexico and Iron & Wine, and Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn will perform tonight, Feb. 11 at The Ryman Auditorium. The show is all ages, begins at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are available to purchase for $30-55.