, Beacon Correspondent/strong
“Oh, hold on a second, I just have to start my car. Oftentimes I have to pull over on the side of the road to take interviews,” said singer/songwriter Abigail Washburn over the phone while on a trip home to Nashville, Tenn. last week.
Time at home is becoming increasingly rare for the globe trotting folk singer, who flew to Boston yesterday for a live in-studio show with WERS. She’ll return to Boston to perform Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Paramount Center’s Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre.
“It’s going to be a good night because it’s a small space, making it an intimate show,” said Martin Grossinger, the assistant program director at WERS.
For Washburn, who is also married to — and occasionally performs with — bluegrass maestro Bela Fleck, intense traveling is not new. She has spent time living and playing music in both China and the United States. The influence of her time abroad pervades her sound. Washburn incorporates instruments typically used in traditional Appalachian mountain and bluegrass music with traditional Chinese folk, crafting tunes that are both pop-oriented and worldly. Fluent in both Mandarin and English, Washburn sometimes jumps between the languages in her songs.
She collaborated with world-renowned multimedia artist Wu Fei on her most recent album, January’s emCity of Refuge/em. Fei played the guzheng, or “zheng,” a 21-string zither with movable bridges that looks like a small harp.
“Part of the beauty of getting to be an artist is that you get a strong cultural center and keep bouncing off the people and the culture,” said Washburn, describing an experience she calls a “love collaboration.”
Washburn didn’t always want to be a musician — for most of her life music was a casual interest. After graduating from Middlebury College, where she studied law with a minor in Chinese, Washburn interned in China. She planned to stay in the country and earn a master’s degree at Beijing University, but first decided to embark on what was meant to be her final performances in the United States in the fall of 2003. During this six-week journey, a fateful encounter changed her future plans. At one of the many folk festivals she played along the way, Washburn drew the attention of a studio representative who offered her the chance to record.
“You know when something special is happening, you can feel it inside. My whole body was charged,” said Washburn.
This once-in-a-lifetime chance changed her entire path. She turned down studying in Beijing in favor of music and the banjo in Nashville, where she recorded her first album, 2005’s emSong of the Traveling Daughter/em.
She’ll soon be crossing the Pacific once again. In November, Washburn is going on the State Department-sponsored “Silk Road Tour” with several other musicians. As the troubadours span Asia, Washburn plans to perform Tibetan and Uighur songs.
Washburn said she believes music is a universal language with the power to transcend differences in languages. Many of the small villages that she will be visiting on the tour won’t be able to speak Mandarin or English, making the music all the more important.
Washburn said she also enjoys playing on college campuses because she believes that young people receive her message the best.
“Students are the future,” she said. “I can make music as a conversation with them caring, receiving it, and processing it.”
strongAbigail Washburn will perform at the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre in the Paramount Center on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 for the general public and $15 for students and ArtsEmerson members./strong
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