Abigail Washburn

It's curious in the arts, especially music, that success or notoriety can sometimes come more easily to those who started late, or never even planned to be an artist in the first place. But perhaps, by the time that music seriously enters their life, people they've met or other things that they've done or been interact with that late-breaking musical urge and catalytically convert it into something that works, takes shape or even wings. And so many who may have played the same instrument or sung or composed the same style of music all their lives may never have been rewarded, or at least noticed, for a life's work. Timing, including the totality of what one brings to the table at that particular time, seems to be what matters. Or destiny, perhaps, if one believes in such a thing.

By the time that musical destiny came knocking at Abigail Washburn's door, her young life was already paved with diverse experiences. She'd gone abroad to China in her freshman year at college, and it changed her fundamentally. She became so interested in that culture and that tradition that it blossomed into a similar interest in her own culture when she returned, and she went deeply into the music of Doc Watson and other mountain music figures, into old time and clawhammer banjo music in particular. She'd sung extensively in choral groups already, so that came naturally. She was working as a lobbyist and living in Vermont, and had close friends who were a string band. They'd lost a banjo player and had a tour in Alaska already booked. Long story short, she learned quickly how to cover the bases and was on stage in a heartbeat.

Some time after that, she stopped on a long trip at the yearly IBMA Bluegrass convention, played with some fantastic pickers in the jam situations that are everywhere at such a gathering, and new possibilities of what might be next began to gather in her mind. She did happen to be a very good singer, and one whose sound was very suited to old time and bluegrass music, which was not lost on the pickers with whom she fell in.

Abigail came to Nashville, started writing songs, and joined an all girl string band, Uncle Earl. She got a job that entailed translating Chinese documents, and met Jing Li Jurca, a friend who would become her Chinese co-writer of songs. She wrote a song with Beau Stapleton of Blue Merle, "Rockabye Dixie," that won the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest. (Simple, right? She makes it sound simple, anyway.) A casual conversation in a coffee shop one day--with someone who coincidentally works for Nettwerk Records--led eventually to a record contract. Uncle Earl's debut record will soon come out on Rounder, and Abigail's impressive solo debut on Nettwerk is in the stores now, Song of the Traveling Daughter, which we reviewed last month.

She's made subsequent trips to China for further study, and ended up playing concerts and workshops on the banjo all over the country. She's a study in serendipity, in carpe diem, and in penetrating study of whatever she puts her heart and mind to. A fascinating and lovely person, we bring you a conversation with the soon to be ubiquitous Abigail Washburn.  continue to interview