If American old-time music is about taking earlier, simpler ways of life and music-making as one's model, Abigail Washburn has proven herself to be a bracing revelation to that tradition. She — a singing, songwriting, Illinois-born, Nashville-based clawhammer banjo player — is every bit as interested in the present and the future as she is in the past, and every bit as attuned to the global as she is to the local. Abigail pairs venerable folk elements with far-flung sounds, and the results feel both strangely familiar and unlike anything anybody's ever heard before.
One fateful day 11 years ago, Washburn was miraculously offered a record deal in the halls of a bluegrass convention in Kentucky which changed her trajectory from becoming a lawyer in China to a traveling folk musician. Since then, Abigail has been recording and touring a continuous stream of music. Her music ranges from the "all-g'earl" string band sound of Uncle Earl to her bi-lingual solo release Song of the Traveling Daughter (2005), to the mind-bending "chamber roots" sound of the Sparrow Quartet, to the rhythms, sounds and stories of Afterquake, her fundraiser CD for the Sichuan earthquake victims. The New York Times praised her 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 most recent release, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn (2014) was recorded with her husband, 15-time Grammy award winning banjo virtuoso, Béla Fleck. "The king and queen of the banjo” (Paste Magazine), have a musical partnership like no other. Béla Fleck is a sixteen-time Grammy Award winner who has taken the instrument across multiple genres, and Abigail Washburn a singer-songwriter and clawhammer banjo player who re-radicalized it by combining it with Far East culture and sounds. The pair performs music from their self-titled debut for which they took home the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Folk Album. The two met at a square dance, began collaborating musically and eventually fell in love. Over the years, they played together most visibly in the Sparrow Quartet alongside Ben Sollee and Casey Driessen and informally at a pickin’ party here, a benefit there, or occasionally popping up in each other’s solo shows. Fans of tradition-tweaking acoustic fare eagerly anticipated that Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn would produce a full-fledged project together as a duo. Sure, in the abstract, a banjo duo might seem like a musical concept beset by limitations. But, when the banjo players are Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, it’s a different matter entirely. Whether at home, on stage or on record, their deep bond, on top of the way their distinct musical personalities and banjo styles interact, makes theirs a picking partnership unlike any other on the planet. Currently Abigail and Béla are touring the world as a "trio" with their growing little boy Juno.