Last week, Colorado College (where I work) welcomed back to campus one of its own, Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet, featuring ten-time Grammy winner Bela Fleck on the banjo, Casey Driessen on the violin, and the marvelous Ben Sollee on cello.
Washburn has a lovely, lilting, strong voice, and her music is a fascinating blend of bluegrass Appalachian, woven with old threads of 1930s Americana and traditional songs, then globally spiced with Chinese melodies and Chinese language. Abigail and I are roughly the same age, so she was at the College long before I came to work there, but she studied abroad in Shanghai and majored in Asian Studies (both are part of my job now in International Programs).
I felt a certain kinship with the journey of discovery she talked about all throughout her concert, remembering the old woman who taught her a song in China, or what the sky looked like where she lived during her time abroad. It was amazing to see how far life has carried her since those days, but how the seeds of her diverse life experiences have germinated in brightly colored ways through her music.
She is a formidable presence live; each member of the Sparrow Quartet seems smiley-in-love with the music they are creating, appreciatively watching the others play, and holding the audience quite spellbound. Seeing as many rock shows as I do, I was amazed that I didn’t even miss the drums. The range of sounds that their instruments sang out captivated my attention completely.
I brought my little boy to the concert with me (he was my plus-1/2 instead of plus-one, we joked, since he’s only 5) and he sat transfixed. As we walked out through the snowy parking lot, he emphatically told me that he’d never ever heard music like that before, and said, “Mama… it made my brain tickle.”
Side note: Ben Sollee also blew me away; I’m a fan of his thoughtful, cello-based solo album Learning To Bend, and after seeing him play with the Sparrow Quartet, I’m itching to go catch him solo with his own songs, and also hear what else he’s got cooking with Jim James (My Morning Jacket).