Traveling cellist takes his instrument on the road — on his bike

Ben Sollee
Ben Sollee
American cellist Ben Sollee performs at Barefoots Joe March 21. | Photo by Jacob Moore

Ben Sollee is not only different from the usual performer at Union’s Barefoots Joe — he also is different from the usual singer-songwriter.

Instead of playing his concerts with an acoustic guitar, Sollee’s instrument of choice is the cello.

Despite his classical training, and the very classical instrument he plays, Sollee’s music is far from classical or traditional.

The musician blends aspects of soul, blues, jazz and bluegrass into his music to create something that is truly unique.

National Public Radio has featured Sollee’s music on its “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition” programs. PBS has also featured Sollee on “On Canvas.”

Another unique aspect of Sollee’s musical career is his passion for the community he travels through on his tours.

It is this passion for community that led to him hosting a lecture and question and answer session on the afternoon of his concert at Barefoots Joe.

Sollee began his time by performing his song “Something Somewhere, Sometime” to set the mood.

“It speaks to the energy and momentum you put out as a human, and so I thought it would be fitting to start us off with,” Sollee said.

Sollee continued to talk about his classical training and the beginnings of his musical career, which involved playing for friends and family and, eventually, regular appearances on local radio shows.

Eventually he began touring with Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck  and Casey Driessen to form Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet.

During his time touring as a member of the Sparrow Quartet, Sollee said he felt a disconnect between the community to which he was traveling and decided that wasn’t what he wanted in his career.

In between tours, Sollee found an advertisement for an extended bicycle on which he could fit his cello and decided to take a summer tour from his hometown of Lexington, Ky., to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., on his bike.

This tour was just what Sollee had been looking for.

“I loved the pace on the bike because it just felt human. It gave me a chance to really slow down and interact with the towns I travel through,” he said. “It’s not about being green or sustainable but slowing down to a human pace.”

Although Sollee says touring on the bike isn’t about being green, he did talk about some of the work he does when he is not touring that deals with environmental and livability issues in the area of Appalachia in which he lives.

During the question and answer portion of his lecture, Sollee discussed his influences and places from which he draws inspiration.

He mentioned artists from other disciplines of art such as dance and film as well as music, citing several Wes Anderson films and talked about his love for songwriters such as Andrew Bird and Ani DiFranco.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.