Saturday, January 24, 2009

They Say The Tardy Fruit's A Fuller Wine

Abigail Washburn with Bela Fleck
Vancouver Folk Music Festival, July 2008

Dearest Friends, we are experiencing a rare moment of calm and downtime round Chateau FiL. Darling Daughter is somewhere up the Sunshine Coast enjoying (we hope) her weekend at Girl Guides District Camp. Dearest Wife is upstairs preparing her lectures on Celtic gods & goddesses for the upcoming week. Ginadawg is curled up in front of the fire. And Little Man & I are ensconced on the sofa watching The Wizard of Oz. There's no place like home... there's no place like home... there's no place like home...

Things have been a bit quiet round pogo a go-go way of late. You know, the whole offline life thing. But I won't whinge about it, cos it's just how it is that's not what you've dropped by for. Here, why don't you join us on the sofa for a mug of hot milk & honey and a bit of a catch-up??

I've been meaning to tell you for some time now about Abigail Washburn. How long is "some time?" Well, um, since this past summer, actually. I know, pretty crap of me, but better now than never, because she sounds as wonderful today as she did six months ago when I saw her play the Vancouver Folk Music Festival with The Sparrow Quartet. While I was perusing the Fest's programme she caught my eye for three reasons. First, she plays the banjo. Ever since I saw Old Man Luedecke play the thing at the previous year's Festival I've been a fan, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Played well, it can be by turns marvellously evocative and pogoliciously rambunctious. Oh, and she plays the clawhammer banjo; dunno exactly what species that is, but it sounds hardcore. Second, Abigail narrowly escaped being a lawyer. She was on the verge of treading down the path of international corporate law when a fortuitous encounter with an agent at a bluegrass convention resulted in a demo and ultimately a decision to follow the music rather than Mammon. Third, she fuses her love of old-time pluckin' with her love of China. Yes, you heard right. While a student, she developed a deep respect and passion for Chinese culture during a trip to that country, and went so far as to learn Mandarin. She now composes and sings in both idioms.

If the programme whetted my appetite, seeing her left me hungry for more. I was spellbound, and the shivers danced up and down my spine, raising the hairs on the back of my neck. Dearest Friends, whenever that happens I KNOW what I'm hearing is magnificent. I was watching her and the Quartet with Dearest Father-in-Law, who commented that her banjo-playing, while good, wasn't particularly complex. Maybe that was true, particularly when compared to quartetite Bela Fleck, who is widely regarded as the finest banjo meister alive. But there was something so pure and clear and gorgeous and evocative about her plucking and singing that relative technical prowess seemed irrelevant. She flitted from old skool Appalachian tunes to Chinese folk songs with wondrous ease, her seamless weaving supported magnificently by fiddle and cello, as well as Bela's second banjo. On top of all this she is lovely, both on stage and off. I chatted briefly with her on the second day of the Festival and she was most gracious. Afterwards I thought that maybe I had been bewitched by the setting; in the past certain artists who I enjoyed at the Festival seemed slightly less fabulous upon subsequent listenings. Not so Abigal; I saw her and the Sparrow Quartet perform brilliantly a few months later at the more intimate Rogue Folk Club and I realized that I had been bewitched, not by the Festival, but by Abigail and her music (but you should have guessed that, since I only tell you about those artists who truly ARE fabulous). As she sang and picked, the shivers returned; they were particularly electrifying on this sublime song:

Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet - A Fuller Wine (buy this splendid album here or e-here)

Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet are currently on the tail-end of a long spate of touring that has taken them all over the US, Europe, and China (see Abigail's Myspace page for a brilliant set of thoughtful, erudite, and eloquent blogposts about that visit). If you're in Kentucky, Colorado, Washington DC, or New York, do go prepared to be spellbound:

4 Feb: The Oriental Theater, Denver, CO
5 Feb: Colorado College, Clorado Springs, CO
6 Feb: Fox Theater, Boulder, CO
7 Feb: Wheeler Opera House, Aspen, CO
10 Feb: National Geographic, Washington DC
11 Feb: Joe's Pub, New York, NY (N.B. two shows on one night)
15 Feb: Comstock Hall (University of Louisville), Louisville KY

It was lovely chatting with you, Dearest Friends. Stop by again for a hot mug of something.