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Abigail Washburn

Performer

About this Artist

"A daring, definite talent, whose feel for the folk idiom results in moving material.  Soulful is the word" – Wall Street Journal

"Washburn stomped and skipped through fiery Appalachian takes on the local songs of Sichuan. Her bilingualism's no gimmick; she nails the dips and peaks of pitch while leading her band in scorching variations on simple, repetitive traditional melodies…” – L.A. Times

“{Abigail Washburn is} an artist who best embodies the notion of Americana as a worldwide musical language" – The Tennessean

Beijing. A smoke-filled club bustling with people, clanging of bottles, chatter. There is a woman on stage with her banjo. She begins to sing old-time Appalachian music in Chinese. The effect produced is entirely original, a cultural mash-up between two distant yet not so different worlds. The crowd quiets down to listen.

ABIGAIL WASHBURN never set out to be a songwriter, recording artist or a producer. Her performance at that smoke-filled Beijing club would prove to be an important step toward international acclaim and attention from discerning critics. Abigail has created a new sound – a sound that challenges traditional notions of culture and countries. 

Abigail planned to move to China after a road trip up the east coast, but instead she stumbled upon a professional music career. This east coast trip included a stop at the International Bluegrass Music Association conference in Louisville, KY where she intended to learn a few banjo tunes but walked away with a demo session for a record deal in Nashville, TN. She canceled her one-way ticket to China and moved to Nashville. Shortly thereafter in 2004 she joined Uncle Earl. The "all G'earl" group released two records on the Rounder label, She Waits for Night (2005) and Waterloo, TN, (2007) the latter of which was produced by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.

 

In the midst of touring with Uncle Earl, Washburn released her first solo debut, and bilingual album, Song of the Traveling Daughter, (Nettwerk). At that point, Abigail joined cellist, Ben Sollee, in performing her music around the globe. In 2005 Abigail, Ben and a few talented friends (Béla Fleck on banjo and Casey Driessen on fiddle) formed the Sparrow Quartet and toured China. In 2006, the US State Department and the American Center for Educational Exchange requested that the group come back to lead the first official tour of a US band in Tibet.

In May 2008, the Sparrow Quartet released Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet (Nettwerk) which was praised by critics and appeared on several “best of” lists from prominent publications.

Produced by Béla Fleck and composed/arranged by the unconventional foursome, Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet became an "intimate exploration of crossing global and cultural lines," says Abigail, who feels a reverence for both American and Chinese cultures. The unprecedented combination of two banjos (clawhammer and three-finger-style), cello and five-string fiddle unfolds -live and on record- in a dreamlike chamber suite. From the flawless ‘Overture" and harrowing revival, "Strange Things," to the interplanetary, Puccini-inspired old-time fairy tale, "Great Big Wall in China," this record highlights the brilliant musicianship of each individual, but is at the same time much larger than the sum of its parts.

In 2008 and 2009, Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet toured extensively throughout the US and Canada with appearances at festivals including New Orleans Jazz & Heritage, Merlefest, Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Vancouver Folk Festival and many more. They were invited by the US State Department to play in China including several performances in Beijing during the 2008 Olympic games.

In addition, they were filmed on National Geographic Live in Washington, DC and each member was invited to be a part of the Clearwater Concert, a benefit concert in celebration of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday along with a line-up of some of the most prominent, established musicians in the world. For Abigail and the Sparrow Quartet, 2008 was a year full of accomplishments and successes.

But Abigail does not stop. She is a force of nature that continually attracts others to become a part of her art. Enter The Shanghai Restoration Project (SRP) producer Dave Liang. Abigail and Dave first collaborated to produce two electronic remixes of Sparrow Quartet songs released in April 2009.

In December 2008, Abigail served as a resident teacher at the Sichuan University Art School teaching traditional US music. In the hours after school was finished, she volunteered for Sichuan Quake Relief performing at earthquake relocation schools. The experience with the students and teachers after the performances left her wanting to do something to help.

In early March, 2009, Abigail had the idea to create Afterquake, a benefit EP in memory of the May 12, 2008 Sichuan Earthquake which left more than 5 million people homeless and hundreds of thousands dead. Abigail and The Shanghai Restoration Project united again to go to Sichuan Province, to the relocation schools and into the disaster zone to capture the voices of those affected by the earthquake and sample sounds from the schools and the disaster zone. They sampled, recorded and produced Afterquake in two and a half weeks in Sichuan province. The final result is a beautiful, timeless, intelligent and accessible musical document that blends folk and electronic sounds with post-earthquake samples. A portion of all proceeds will go to the Sichuan Quake Relief organization.

Whether playing her banjo, or producing an electronic album, there is an undeniable element of Abigail Washburn in every project she embraces. Abigail's spirit and philosophy translate from language to language and bind countries, cultures and genres.

"As more and more people engage in this struggle for a new direction for the human spirit, we'll recognize that we're morphing into a global species."

 

---Abigail Washburn