It's been almost nine years since Abigail Washburn went from driven student with Chinese law on the brain to banjo fanatic with Chinese language in her songs. The transition has been smoother than one might imagine. Washburn, after all, has made a career of playing with boundaries both geographical and stylistic. She's paid dues in all-girl string band Uncle Earl, pursued classical ambitions with the Sparrow Quartet, and explored both traditional and indie folk incarnations of a solo career.
Washburn's work as a cultural ambassador (both official and not) to China is perhaps the most telling part of all. She has wowed audiences here and there with her fluency in clawhammer rolls, old-time religious songs and ancient Chinese tunes. Performances overseas have included both Olympic events and gatherings in small university classrooms. One visit to the Sichuan Province even resulted in a benefit album for earthquake survivors, culled from recordings of schoolchildren. In 2011, she and her band traveled the Silk Road, stopping to perform and collaborate with local musicians along the way.
This tour stop provides a fine example of her spirit of co-creation within traditional forms as Washburn and bandmate Kai Welch team up with Wu Fei, an internationally acclaimed master of the Chinese zither known as the guzheng. Tickets to the 8 p.m. show run $39–$89. Earlier in the day, Washburn and Wu Fei take part in an artist conversation as part of UNC's Music and the Global American South Conference at the FedEx Global Education Center. Admission to the conference is free with registration; visit cgi.unc.edu. —Ashley Melzer