Kentucky cellist Ben Sollee performs, releases new record

Cellist, Ben Sollee, performs as part of the Cultural Enhancement Series on Thursday, Oct. 20, at Van Meter Hall. Brendan O’Hern/HERALD

Emma Austin

Kentucky cellist and singer Ben Sollee released his new record, “Infowars,” on Friday after performing at Van Meter Auditorium Thursday evening as a part of WKU’s Cultural Enhancement Series.

Sollee opened his set with “Learn To Listen,” joined by percussionist and fellow Kentuckian Jordon Ellis.

Sollee spoke to the audience often during his performance, sharing his story beginning when he first played the cello at age 9. He would switch back and forth from playing classical music at school and playing blues and “fiddle tunes” at home with his family.

He played an excerpt from a well-known Bach cello suite, demonstrating the classical style, and asked the audience if they recognized it.

“They play it in all the cleaning commercials,” Sollee joked.

He also played and sang a portion of “Stand By Me,” one of the songs he grew up playing alongside his dad, a guitarist.

Sollee’s set was made up of several original songs, including “Whole Lot to Give,” “Prettiest Tree on the Mountain,” “DIY” and more.

He also played “The Long Lavender Line” and “Cajun Navy,” both songs from his new record.

“Another man with an iPhone walks off a cliff, says he’s chasing creatures, got to try to catch them all,” Sollee sang in “The Long Lavender Line.”

“Cajun Navy” is a song dedicated to those who risk their lives in hurricane rescue and relief efforts, with lyrics saying, “when the storm is ragin’ trust in a Cajun, they won’t let you down.”

“Infowars” was a collaboration between Sollee and Ellis. The album was conceived, recorded and released all within a six-week time frame, Sollee said. Song lyrics touch on recent developments including Pokémon Go and Louisiana flooding.

“It’s really different,” Sollee said. “It incorporates a lot of field recording and a lot of use of electronics and sampling.”

Sollee and Ellis were later joined onstage by banjoist Bennett Sullivan and guitarist Simon Meurer for a performance by their string band, a new project Sollee said had rehearsed beforehand for only two days.

“We’re going to try it because we trust you, Hilltoppers,” Sollee told the audience. “We know you’re eclectic, because, well, we walked around campus and you have buildings from every architectural period.”

Sollee stayed after his performance for a meet-and-greet with audience members, autographing CDs and taking photos with new and old fans.

Louisville sophomore Corinne Warlick and Somerset sophomore Lincoln Curry both said they saw Sollee play when they went to the Governor’s Scholar Program at Bellarmine University.

“I love it,” Warlick said. “It’s so different. He just pulls stuff out of nowhere.”

Curry said he’s been listening to Sollee on Spotify since he first heard his music two years ago at GSP.

“I think his story’s just so cool,” Curry said. “Just how he started out on a bike, and biked across the country with his cello.”

Both Warlick and Curry said their favorite song Sollee performed Thursday was “Prettiest Tree On the Mountain,” a song Sollee said was inspired by a tree he saw that was the exact color of a girl’s hair after a failed romance.

Sollee, known for his political activism, has spoken to shed light on issues such as mountain top removal and sustainability, according to his website.

“I think music is a really great technology for connecting people in a time when it’s really easy for people to live in their own niches,” Sollee said. “And sometimes that means expressing views in songs that would be hard to express in conversation.”

When he began his career, Sollee had a lot of politics in his music.

“Over time, I learned that it was a little bit more impactful to talk about more personal human things, rather than politics,” Sollee said. “Because that’s kind of surface-y stuff when you really think about it, and there’s basic lives being lived that need to be addressed.”

Reporter Emma Austin can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @emmacaustin.