04 June, 2012

Folkin' Around

Folk music is something I never adequately enjoyed until recently. I am not too proud to admit that the sudden popularity of Mumford and Sons helped. (Actually, it was a dear friend’s insistence that I should listen to them, because they were not just some one-hit radio wonder.)

My budding appreciation for folk music has officially blossomed, and I can thank China and the Peace Corps for that…


Abigail Washburn is a folk artist from the United States. She was in China with the plan of studying law, until she got a record deal playing the banjo. On one of her albums, her music is a combination of folky bluegrass and Chinese melodies. Last fall, she toured China with a band, and stopped in Lanzhou for a concert.

How many people can say they saw an American folk artist from the U.S. perform in the middle of China? (Although, this isn’t her first time performing in China, so the number is probably higher than my question lets on.)

The concert, which took place 22 November, was amazing. The Peace Corps had a collection of tickets for volunteers to attend, and invite our students along. It was a great experience for both my students and myself. The Chinese audience was amazed that a waiguoren (外国人) woman was on stage speaking flawless Chinese, then performing beautiful English music. They were even more astounded when she sang in Chinese.

In addition, there were intermissions of Chinese artists performing some traditional music. The finale for the show was all of them on stage together performing a few of Washburn’s songs.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed the cultural exchange. Getting to talk to my students about folk music, melodies and culture from the States, as well as China, was just delightful.

After all the important Peace Corps exchanges, fulfilling goal two, things got even more delightful. Abigail wanted to meet the volunteers, so we headed over to a bar in the city with live music. When she showed up with the band, things got pretty exciting. The American Embassy had also tried to invite Chinese people to the bar who were musicians and interested in folk music, so there was many an interesting conversation to be had.

We spent the night and early hours of the morning talking and drinking—merriment was had by all. Much to my surprise, when Abigail asked where I was from, not only had she heard of Elkhart, but she had spent some time there. She was friends with a fiddle player in Goshen, and had crashed there for a few weeks to perform with her. (I had the same conversation with the other members of her band as well, which was mighty amusing). It never ceases to amaze me what a small world it can be.

 Pictures from the show:

This is Cyrus, who let me have his
photos from the concert because my
camera just can't cut it.

Here's my first attempt at uploading a video on my blog: 

I think it's working!

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