The Sparrow Speaks: 10 questions with Abigail Washburn


Abigail Washburn stopped by Beijing last weekend for a one off performance at Yugong Yishan billed as Abigail & Friends. It was my first time seeing her so I have no basis for comparison but what i can say though is that this show was up there with some of the most moving ones i have been to.
We were treated to 2 hours of roots music merging east and west musically, lyrically and emotionally. Hanggai, the Inner-Mongolian band, provided most of the support for the evening in addition to playing a few songs of their own.


I was amazed at how the whole thing seemed so organic and natural which is a tribute to the genre of music in addition to the musicians themselves. Last time I actually experienced anything of the sort was at the “World Sacred Music Festival of Fez” in 1999.
The show ended with a bilingual drinking song that had the audience in a stomping dancing frenzy that was an absolute Joy.

Huge thanks to Abigail taking some time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions!

1- What’s going on in your world? This is your chance to plug your stuff

Afterquake- a great holiday present and all proceeds go to the relocation schools I’m getting ready to go back into the studio with producer Tucker Martine in Feb. Super excited about the new collaboration!

2- How did you end up playing Bluegrass in Beijing out of all places?

I started studying China and Chinese in 96, fell in love. Realized years later that I didn’t know much about my own culture. Traditional US music, became a window into US traditional culture for me. Miraculously my career path changed from becoming a professional sinophile to a professional musician. Naturally when I became a musician I couldn’t stay away from China. So the first time I came back after becoming a musician my old pal Jon Campbell ( set up some gigs for me in Beijing. That’s how I ended up playing Bluegrass in Beijing. organiz process really

3- I was there at the show on Saturday and was amazed at how well Bluegrass and Mongolian folk fit together. I even spotted Cui Jian enjoying the performance discretely for most of the evening. It makes perfect sense mixing them considering they’re both “Roots” music. How did you come up with the idea?

it’s just kindred. we all sing songs and play acoustic instruments and love the cultures we come from. jon campbell and i did some hanging out with IZ in the early days and then when Hanggai came along it was a natural fit as well. just hanging and jamming. taking it on stage is easy if you all mutually dig one another.


4- You’ve been mostly out of China over the past few years but you manage to come back every so often. Have you noticed a big change in Beijing’s music scene at all?

I come back once or twice a year. definitely big changes in beijing in general… Music-wise, I see new venues, and hear about a lot of great new bands…

5- Walking in your footsteps are “The Redbucks”, one of my favorite acts in the city! Did you get a chance to see them at all?

We’re not exactly playing the same music — that ‘bluegrass’ label doesn’t so much apply to what I do — but it does come from a similar place. I got to meet and hang a bit with the Redbucks folks, but not see them perform, unfortunately… I listened online and it sounded great. Hope we get to jam sometime.


6- So you get off the plane after being away for x months. What’s the first meal you’re looking forward to in the city?

Always a tough call. This time around, I stepped off the plane in chengdu and went right for the hotpot.


7- Word association: write the first word that comes to your mind.

* Beijing: yeah!

*Shanghai: polka dots

* Baijiu: ugh.

* Banjo: just one word?

* Alison Krauss: bad-ass

* Hutongs: where I hang

* Polka dots: shanghai

8- Name 3 high points and 3 low points of your musical career in Beijing:


  • meeting and jamming with so many great musicians
  • being the first american musical act invited to perform in tibet
  • having the sparrow quartet come together for china and keep going after

low points… There really aren’t any that stick out… It hasn’t all been high points, but it’s definitely been mostly high

9- I was tweeting about the show on saturday night and got loads of questions regarding the performance. Any chance of packaging it together as a CD or DVD release?

One thing I’ve learned is that anything is possible. It’s certainly something that we could see lots of people being excited about. We definitely were.

10 – When can we expect you again in Beijing and what keeps you coming back?

Soon. What keeps me coming back is that there is still work to be done, music to be played, and people to hang with.

You may also like...