Logged Users (last hour): 234
Registered Users: 227,391

2010 Jul 8 American Roots & a Love for China: Abigail Washburn Returns

China's own beloved banjo pickin' girl, Abigail Washburn, is back and on tour for the Fourth of July season. After paying a timely visit to the Shanghai Expo for shows at the American Pavilion, she'll be in Beijing for a show at The One on July 9 with her old pals, Hanggai.

Here's what the lovely Ms. Washburn had to say about the tour, her upcoming album, City of Refuge, and life as a newlywed.

Looks like the timing of your tour is just right – a little Americana around the Fourth of July. Can we expect any patriotic songs?
The fact that we play trad American music, and music inspired by it, is by definition patriotic. And my grandma made us patriotic sweatbands: one blue wristband with stars, the other red wristband with stripes. When we wear them, we look like American superheroes!

I read that you recorded with producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens) for your new album, City of Refuge, coming out in August. How did that influence what we'll be hearing?
The most different thing about the new album is the collaboration with Kai Welch. We ended up writing most of songs together. He comes from the pop-rock world, not the raw folk world like me. The combination is very different, plus the producer, Tucker Martine, was different – and amazing to work with.

The album is much more viscerally moving than in the past. New kinds of people will definitely be excited about it. Performing with this band is very different. It’s still my voice and emotional expression, but there are drums! I’ve never played with drums before…

Your story for me is mired in lore. You were on a road trip before returning to China to study law and then were discovered. Where you were playing and who you did you meet that set the course of your life on this track?
After living in China for my third extended period in 2000, I returned to America and worked as a lobbyist. I took the HSK (汉语水平考试) in the hope of returning to Beijing to study law at Bedia. Before returning to China, I took a six week road trip down to Nashville. I had begun playing banjo and wanted to visit different places connected to the instrument, figuring I could share a little bit of American culture with my friends in Beijing – instead of karaoke, I’d show up with a banjo and a couple of good’ ol traditional American ballads.

Along the way, I went to the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) convention in Louisville, KY just to check it out. And I got offered a record deal! The offer made me realize that I wanted to live a creative existence. I could speak enough Chinese that I realized at that moment that the ultimate goal wasn’t Chinese fluency for the sake of fluency, but to communicate something meaningful… something that transcended the cultural differences I had been working so hard to learn to understand and explain through academia and business.

I decided to stay in Nashville and dig into my American roots and find venues to express my love for China… for the way China renewed my sense of myself in the world.

So, now I play traditional American music and write original material in Chinese and English in an attempt to communicate my experience of the world and the feeling of being deeply connected to two cultures.

I know that you and your partner, Bela Fleck, got married recently. How did the two of you meet?
We met in Nashville at a square dance. He was playing and I was dancing.

Abigail Washburn with her husband Bela Fleck.

How many banjos you collectively own?
Probably 50 or so, but they’re mostly his.

How old were you when you wrote your first song? What was it about?
“Rockaby Dixie” was the first one. I was 23 and had just learned to play banjo. The second song I wrote was the Chinese tune “Song of the Travelling Daughter” [in Chinese].

What is the songwriting process like for you? Is it usually collaborative, or is it very private endeavor? Does the instrumentation come first, or lyrics and vocals?
It’s evolving. Initially, it was very private. The important moment of conception has something to do with lyrics and melody, and then the rest is labor.

My Chinese songs have always been collaborative.

If you could host a dinner with only other musicians (living or deceased) as guests, name the top five you'd want at your table and why.
Hmm… Blind Willie Johnson, Frank Zappa, Dolly Parton. We’d definitely need a whirling dervish at the table, plus Woody Guthrie.

Abigail Washburn and friends play at The One at 9pm, Friday, July 9. RMB 100/80 (advance)

HuanChu's picture
Joined: Feb 09, 2006
Posts: 2684

TheOne website says the domain has expired...so how about getting tickets? :/

Jerry's picture
Joined: Jan 12, 2006
Posts: 1149

You can reserve tickets in advance by calling these numbers:

咨询 Info: 5914 8087

Tickets are RMB 80 and you have to go in person to the piaowu.com offices to pay and pick up in person:

7/F Bldg 32 Dongzhong Jie (the street east of the Poly Theater)

HuanChu's picture
Joined: Feb 09, 2006
Posts: 2684

Nice one, thanks Jerry.

You might also be interested in :

Memphis native Christine Laskowski moved to China in early 2008 looking for adventure. Since then she’s led a double life – journalist by day, musician by night – and after starting up The Redbucks, Beijing’s only homegrown bluegrass band in the summer of 2009, she has been performing in music clubs around town as her alter ego Daisy Sweetgrass.

Jack Dunn, a former Division II college football player, is as unlikely a Latin dance instructor as you'll find. In physique, he still has the outsized build of a defensive end -- the position he played -- and yet, to know Dunn is to understand his passion and commitment to everything salsa.

Dunn is among a small group of leaders in Beijing who have dedicated themselves to an ever-widening community of Latin dance enthusiasts (though we should mention Dunn is a self-proclaimed "mostly Irish" American). Later tonight, his biggest project comes to fruition: the first annual Summer Latin Festival, a four-day event that includes a pre-party at Club Le;  a performance, For the Love of Salsa (ticket reservation highly recommended); 10 workshops, including five taught by world-famous instructor Sekou McMiller from New York; and DJs, music and parties every night, including a Latin Pool Party and an All White Latin Party.

Read on to find out how you get a discounted fare to all the activities.

The long, drenched, muddy wait, soundtracked by Elton John, Britney Spears, and eventually impatient shouts of "sha bi!" and "no, no, no!" turned into perhaps the best musical blowout Beijing has seen this year. The art punk three-piece Yeah Yeah Yeahs rocked Haidian Park during the Modern Sky Festival last week. As soon as Nick Zinner's guitar began its hum, and Brian Chase's precise drums kicked in, the rain seemed to fade, and the thousands-strong crowd went wild for the promise of what was to come: a frenetic Karen O prancing and jolting around the stage in true punk fashion, replete with homemade costumes and explosive howl.

Despite less than stellar acoustics, as Brian hoped, the band clearly began a "long and beautiful relationship" with their Chinese audience, which made up what looked like half of the assembled. But this was clearly a show to please everyone, and it did that.

“I’ve never been to the far east,” says American jazz pianist Matthew Shipp, who will make his China debut this weekend at Yugong Yishan. “So for this trip, I’m looking forward to just seeing with my own eyes, and checking out the energy. I’m looking forward to playing in a new environment.”

Active on the free jazz scene since the early '90s, Shipp has played jazz festivals around the world, admitting “Well, I have been to the Asian part of Turkey – and the reception was great.” His densely precise, percussive playing style has been honed through collaborations with jazz artists such as David Ware and William Parker, and also alternative hip-hop characters like El-P and DJ Spooky – products of the Thirsty Ear Blue Series, for which he is a curator.

Beijing music mavens, take note (if you haven't already): these three ladies are the next big thing in town. Yes, it’s Ourselves Beside Me, the recently re-emerged all-girl rock band that's been kicking ass all over town (but mostly at D-22). Though Ourselves have already been scouted out by the Bingmasi (Maybe Mars) label (they hope to get them into the studio in time for their spring release batch), D-22 proprietor Michael Pettis realized it was high time to get the word out after a scorching set (click here to see a Youtube clip of the show - but beware, the sound quality is not great) at last week's Cheb Amir and the Black Leviathan show - a set that also happened to blow the French headliners themselves away.