Sparrow Quartet at

Sparrow Quartet video at Newsweek.comThe July 21, 2008 issue of Newsweek magazine included a feature on banjo player, vocalist and songwriter Abigail Washburn and her current touring and recording venue, Sparrow Quartet.

The magazine’s Brian Braiker caught up with Abby and fellow quartet members B?©la Fleck, Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee at a live performance in New York’s Battery Park, where she shared how she came to a career in music after studying Chinese in college.

But somewhere along the way, Washburn, who also sang in college, picked up a banjo for largely the same reason she decided to learn Chinese‚Äîit was hard. She mastered the old-timey clawhammer style well enough that, by the time she was considering a career in international law, a trip to Nashville turned into a much longer stay. There she cut a demo consisting of the first two songs she’d written, one in English, the other‚Äîbecause, hell, why not?‚Äîin Mandarin. Eventually, the allure of woodshedding in Tennessee trumped the corporate path waiting abroad. “Am I going to use my skills to represent Anheuser-Busch and Payless Shoes?” companies she had consulted for, “or am I going to have something to say?” she asks. She handed her demo to banjo virtuoso B?©la Fleck at a party, who listened on the drive home. He says he became so absorbed that he got pulled over for speeding. “She wasn’t doing anything fancy,” he tells NEWSWEEK. “There was just something pure and beautiful about what she did.”

You can read the full piece at, where they also have an exclusive video of the Quartet performing Captain, a piece from their current CD, Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet (audio samples on iTunes).

HT: Katy Daley at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.