Abigail Washburn turns heads

      October 27, 2012    

            I sensed an almost uncomfortable anticipation settling among the audience as we waited for Abigail to come out. How could anyone have any idea what to expect from this musician, only knowing that she was a chinese-Appalachian-jazz-folk fusion artist? What did all of these genres amount to? (Surely nothing good, I criticized quietly to myself.) How could I even begin to imagine what kind of performance this would turn into?

            Abigail meandered onto the stage in a short black patterned dress, her hair teased in wild blonde curls. Kai, her guitar player and backup singer, wore tweed pants and a collared shirt. They skipped the introduction and dove right into their first song, which began with her plucking the banjo and stomping her foot. Her sweet, silky voice formed a pretty folk tune, and Kai joined her seamlessly with an unexpected harmony. In the next piece, she whipped out an instrument that looked like a large banjo, but it had a low, cello-like Asian twang. Kai interrupted the curious sound of the banjo with a muted trumpet solo. Later, Abigail delved into a gospel tune, and her voice transformed into a sexy, smoky sound. “Once you get the hang of it, sing with me!” she shouted. “I mean I hear you have like, 42 choirs here, right?” We all giggled, and then like puppets totally mesmerized, we chimed in willingly.

            Between numbers, she humbly mentioned her travels through China and other parts of Asia – hitchhiking on sailboats, eating crickets on sticks, teaching American folk music to Chinese children…but the story that resided with me the most was about a Chinese man she tutored in Montpelier, VT. She expressed that he had been having a hard time getting under way since he’d moved to the US, but one day he came to her in complete shambles. When she asked him what was wrong, he simply handed her the letter he had received from his wife that day. It said, “You have been gone for four years now. We have been waiting for you, but you are still not back. We are left with no choice but to move on now. Goodbye.” Abigail then sang a song called Dreams of Nectar in honor of this particular Chinese student as well as so many others who experience the same kind of devastation and loneliness.

            So as you can see, I was pleasantly surprised by the duo. Everything about the performance was unusual – a strange mixing of genres, accompanied by fascinating stories of their travels, but somehow they all worked together, and I couldn’t make myself leave – I was totally enraptured. I stayed until the very last note – wondering the whole time, “How on earth did they think to mesh these two drastically different styles into one?” I was so enamored by them that I couldn’t stand walking away without buying a CD. Now I have something to remember that wonderfully unusual night by. I’m listening to them as I write this! And I want the whole world to know.

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