Posted on 23rd Aug 2018
Béla Fleck, Abigail Washburn and renowned dance troupe Pilobolus have created their own timely ghost story by pairing two songs off their latest album, Echo in the Valley (Rounder), “Come All You Coal Miners” by Appalachian ballad singer and worker’s rights activist, Sarah Ogan Gunning, and the duo’s own “Take Me to Harlan.”
Harlan, Kentucky is an important area for its connection to Appalachian heritage and connection to the struggle for workers’ rights, as told by Gunning, an early 20th century wife of a coal miner. “The dancers watched the movie "Harlan Co.," says Pilobolus producer, Jake McIntyre, who originally had the idea of choreographing Béla and Abigail’s murder ballad, “Shotgun Blues.” “We talked about music and history and movement. We listened to Sarah Ogan Gunning, really listened, and the piece started to reveal itself as a ghost story. We had our murder ballad after all.”
Coal mining is the most dangerous work / in our land today / with plenty of dirty slaving work / and very little pay / coal miner won’t you wake up / and open your eyes and see / what the dirty capitalist system / is doing to you and me.
The companion song “Take Me to Harlan” celebrates the “profound love that remains in our old home place, despite the pain we might have experienced there,” says Abigail, who simultaneously sings and clogs the tune (her doctor cleared her to perform it at the NPR Tiny Desk in the final month of pregnancy).
“We loved the experience!” says Fleck, who describes their time at Pilobolus’ rural Connecticut studio as “one of those pure exchanges, what you wish all collaborations would be. Everyone is affected by each other, but still retains their individuality.”
Rolling Stone premiered the video yesterday. You can read the article and watch the video below.
Along with the video, Fleck, Washburn and Pilobolus created Echo in the Valley, a 20-minute performance piece that premiered at the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC in 2017.
"'Take Me To Harlan' celebrates what is likely a common theme in humans’ connections to their homes in this new time and pattern of human movement away from home places toward urban centers; a theme of deep remembrance, remembering the struggles of our growing up time and the choice to leave but also the profound love that remains in our old home place, despite perhaps, the pain we experienced there," says Abigail.
"I perform Gunning's 'Come All You Coal Miners' because, like with many songs from olden days, they are still relevant and point out patterns of human behavior that we need to think about how to transform into an energy that supports all lives rather than a few.
I believe she's basically saying that humans should treat other humans well."