Ben Sollee is not your typical pop singer. Aside from his genre-blurring songwriting — a folk-centric blend of Appalachian roots, soulful vocals and pop-friendly melodies — it’s not often you see a classically-trained cellist tapping and scraping his instrument to mimic hip-hop beats, plucking its strings like a guitar or covering Tom Waits tunes. Not to mention hauling the enormous cello from show to show on a bicycle. But Sollee has made a career of bucking tradition.
In addition to his musical endeavors, which include two full-length studio albums, a just-released live album, Live at the Grocery on Home and collaborations with Béla Fleck, Casey Driessen, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and folk songwriter Daniel Martin Moore, Sollee has spent a considerable amount of time and effort raising awareness for environmental issues, most notably mountaintop coal removal. Last fall, I joined the singer on his fourth bicycle tour, traveling hundreds of miles, gear in tow, from one gig to the next (unfortunately, the trip was cut short due to dangerous road conditions). It’s hard work, and completely impractical from a business standpoint, but Sollee is passionate about taking time to connect with the communities he visits. And the strategy seems to be paying off.
This weekend, he returns to Asheville for a performance at Asheville Music Hall. Sollee is a regular visitor to the area and has strong ties to the local community. He was recently featured in Velo City, a local cycling magazine; last year, he performed a benefit for LEAF in Schools and Streets; his tour manager lives in West Asheville; and Driessen, who appeared on the new live release, also resides in the area. The performance is part of a short spring tour that will include his latest stint in the saddle, a 300-mile ride from New York to D.C. aimed at raising awareness for sustainable energy solutions and bicycle advocacy.
Last year, Sollee joined Xpress for an exclusive performance at Hearn’s Cycling and Fitness. Check out video from the session below:
River Whyless opens. 9 p.m. $12/$15