Smiles all around with Abigail Washburn

Abigail Washburn

I’m not sure I’ve ever photographed as many smiling and laughing musicians as I did tonight at Abigail Washburn‘s performance at the Cedar Cultural Center. Washburn’s Americana is more beautiful than joyful on record, but this was a feel-good concert if I’ve ever seen one. Which makes sense, as it was a homecoming of sorts; Washburn went to high school in nearby Edina and apparently has a lot of family and friends still in the area.

Abigail Washburn

While Washburn’s banjo playing is beyond reproach, it was her voice that really captivated me. In particular, her performance of a Chinese folk song – she’s a scholar of Chinese music and fluent in Mandarin – was amazingly powerful. A second Chinese song, this one a Tibetan children’s song set to a bluegrassy instrumental backing, was a gorgeous and moving meshing of the two cultures. Aside from these Chinese songs, much the setlist was drawn from Washburn’s new record, City of Refuge. It’s a nice recording, and the songs really came alive tonight, helped on by the band’s high spirits. A highlight for me was the closing of the first set: the initial vocal melody of “Burn Thru” burst through an amorphously noisy between-song segue like a warm sunrise, and the rest of the song with its beautifully plaintive harmonies was a truly heartfelt way to head into an intermission. Anyone who was on the fence about sticking around for the second set probably had their minds made up for them.

Abigail Washburn

Photographically, this show made full use of the Cedar’s lighting rig, although the color balance was decidedly deep in the incandescent and red range for most of the show. I shot three songs crouched in front of the seated audience, and then spent the rest of the show sniping from the back and sides with a long lens. ISO 3200 did the trick perfectly well, except for when I was up close with my 85/1.4, in which case ISO 800 was more than sufficient.

Here are a few more favorites:

Abigail Washburn

Abigail Washburn

Abigail Washburn

Full set at Flickr.

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