Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Abigail Washburn

Welcome to the New 12th Gate!

Tonight we bring to the stage Abigail Washburn. She is an American clawhammer banjo player. While she performs as a soloist, much of her touring is with two different bands, Uncle Earl and the Sparrow Quartet which I will say more about later.

Abigail Washburn

Washburn was born in Evanston, Illinois, near Chicago in 1979. While she is lauded for her bluegrass music, she is hardly from Appalachia. She spent her elementary and part of her junior high school years in a suburb of Washington, D.C. She attended high school in Minnesota\, then attended Colorado College, where she was the school’s first East Asian studies major. Following this, she spent some time living in China, where she had dreams of being a lawyer (having first visited that nation in 1996). She then spent three years in Vermont before moving to Nashville, Tennessee.

In Tennessee, she met KC Groves, one of the founding members of the band Uncle Earl and she went on to spend five years touring with the all-girl band. Washburn entered a songwriting contest at MerleFest (a bluegrass music festival in North Carolina), winning second place for her song “Rockabye Dixie.” Shortly afterwords, she was offered a recording contract. Able to speak Chinese, before she could play a banjo, in 2005, she put together a unique quartet involving three other musicans  famous in their own right. Called the Sparrow Quartet, they have traveled in China each year since and have explored how Eastern and Western music share and transform each other..

The first clip, Rockabye Dixie is audio only.

Now to the bands.


This clip features Washburn leading Uncle Earl in Owensboro, KY in 2006.

On to the Sparrow Quartet


The following video, a longer clip, was shot in Beijing during the 2006 tour. Featured are Washington joined by Bella Fleck, Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee.  This interview with the band was recorded on a hutong house rooftop as they jammed with Illiqi and Hujilitu from the Beijing-based Mongolian folk band Hanggai before they left for Tibet.

Washington and the Sparrow Quartet perform Captain at WDVX’s Blue Plate Special.

Two more clips showing the groups incorporation of Tibetan music styles with a liuttle bit of opera thrown in for good measure. Great Big Wall in China

What would the mountain folks say?  Tai Yang Chu Lai Xi Yang Yang performed at Grey Fox 08


Abigail Washburn



If you have missed any of our past performances, several can be found at Center Stage.


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