Telluride Bluegrass: Sunday In The Park With Abigail Washburn
“[Washburn is] something of an unofficial musical ambassador to China. She constructs cultural bridges, one note at a time,” CBS Sunday Morning.
A few single-day Telluride Bluegrass tickets remain for those days and still available at http://shop.bluegrass.com/telluride or 800-624-2422. (As always, Planet Bluegrass charges no services fees on any tickets. )
Please scroll down to listen to Abigail Washburn’s podcast.
A new mural graces the wall of a building just outside Ghost Town on Telluride’s Main Street. The image is of a lovely young woman, obviously not WASP, a red rose in her dark wavy hair.
That image is a replica of one in a series of posters featuring portraits of Native Americans, African Americans, Muslims, and Latinas, created several months ago and meant to protest the president and support those Most Likely To Be Criticized under his regime.
The words on the mural: “We the People…” (and “Defend Dignity”).
The first line of the US Constitution, the preamble, was intended to underline a direct, immediate relationship between the citizens of our country and the government.
An empowering group hug?
“We” means Everybody?
All of us?
Not so much these days, but definitely yes when Abigail Washburn & Friends (including Wu Fei, Raghu Dixit, Iyeoka Okoawa), gather on the Main Stage at the 44th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival to perform a unique “gospel” set, a preamble to yet another day, the final day, of memorable musical happenings.
Sunday in the Park with Abigail takes place 10:45 – 12:15 p.m, when the singer-songwriter will be constructing yet another of her cultural bridges.
“In response to the divisive politics in this country, we wanted to create a gospel set that celebrated unity and diversity. Abigail Washburn was the obvious choice as an artist whose warmth, curiosity and deep love for humanity has led her to many international collaborations in the past,” explained Brian Eyster of Planet Bluegrass. “For this special ‘We the People’ set, Abby is bringing in some of her favorite musicians from around the world, from China, India, Nigeria, who will perform along with numerous special guests who are already in the Telluride Bluegrass lineup. This is one of the most anticipated only-in-Telluride sets of the festival. And Abby is very passionate about the subject and the music she is creating with these artists.”
Wu Fei is a genre-bending composer, guzheng virtuoso, and vocalist from Beijing.
Dixit, for another example, is often hailed as India’s biggest cultural and musical export. His unique brand of infectious, happy music transcends age, genre, even language. His music is strongly rooted in Indian traditions and culture and is presented with a very contemporary, global sound.
Okoawo is a Nigerian-American poet, recording artist, singer, activist, educator, and TED Global Fellow – like Washburn. Her music includes elements from soul, R&B, rock, hip hop, and jazz.
One of our regular TIO contributors, Emily Shoff, once sang a cappella with Washburn back in the day at Colorado College.
“It’s rare to have an artist on your iPod that you listen to while running and while relaxing. But bluegrass musician Abigail Washburn is just that. Her clawhammer banjo-infused tunes and soulful voice are at once soothing and uplifting. Peaceful and energizing,” Shoff once wrote in a story about the artist and friend.
More about Abigail Washburn:
A funny thing happened on her way to becoming a lawyer – in China: Abigail Washburn was offered a record deal in the halls of a bluegrass convention. Since then, she traveled all over the globe – to China, to Tibet, and beyond. She has called Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Vermont, and Nashville home.
Each one of her journeys, each one of those places, added a new dimension to Washburn’s sound, which ranges from the “all-g’earl” string band sound of Uncle Earl to her bi-lingual solo release Song of the Traveling Daughter (2005), the mind-bending “chamber roots” sound of the Sparrow Quartet, and the rhythms, sounds, and stories of Afterquake, her fundraiser CD for the Sichuan earthquake victims.
The New York Times praised Washburn’s 2011 release, City of Refuge, written with collaborator Kai Welch, saying the the songs “mingle Appalachia and folk-pop, with tinges of Asia and Bruce Springsteen.”
Her voice, a combination of smoke and honey.
Washburn, along with 24 other innovative and creative thinkers worldwide, was named a TED fellow and gave a talk at the 2012 TED Convention in Long Beach about building US-China relations through music.
In March of 2013, she was commissioned by New York Voices and the NY Public Theater to write and debut a theatrical work titled “Post-American Girl,” which draws from her 17-year relationship with China and addresses themes of expanding identity, cultural relativism, pilgrimage, the universal appeal of music, and opening the heart wide enough to fold it all in.
Washburn was recently named the first US-China Fellow at Vanderbilt University. Her efforts to share US music in China and Chinese music in the US exist within the hope that cultural understanding and the communal experience of beauty and sound rooted in tradition will lead the way to a richer existence.
“Because of this, because she is truly a global citizen, Abby’s soulful songs have unique twists. Sometimes, she’ll sing in Mandarin. Sometimes, you’ll hear a few notes from the guzheng, a Chinese-style zither. After listening to her for a while, you’ll feel like you, too, have traveled,” said Shoff.
Circling back, the desire to share music with other cultures is the very reason Washburn started making music. After returning from her first trip to China, she heard Doc Watson play and thought, “that’s it, that’s the sound of America,” and set out to learn how to play the banjo.
She realized that she could share her love for her country through music.
Her love of the world.
That love is reflected in The Wu-Force EP, released in January 2017.
Produced by Welch, the Wu-Force EP tells stories of the struggle to connect in the face of divisive forces, with music they hope can speak to people of any walk of life, in any culture around the world.
“We knew we were on to something when Wu Fei and I kept breaking into tears in the middle of the song,” Washburn remembers.
“The three create new music inspired by everything from Peking opera to American punk … fearless instrumentation, delicate playing and intriguing storytelling,” said NPR Music.
Those words could just as easily be used to describe Abigail Washburn’s singular “We the People” Telluride Bluegrass set.
In fact, think of them as a preamble.
Currently Washburn and her husband, 15-times Grammy-winner Béla Fleck, are touring the world as a “trio” with their growing little boy Juno.
Almost certainly Washburn will also appear with Bela, perhaps on Thursday night with Sam Bushand the Telluride House Band; perhaps later in the afternoon on Sunday, when Bela and Chris Thile perform.
To find out more, listen to Abigail Washburn’s podcast. The interview is as warm, unpretentious, smart, funny, and engaging as the woman and her music.
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