Abigail Washburn Settles Into Relix Residency

Little Sparrow: Abigail Washburn splits her time between the United States and China, and her music reflects the folk traditions of both countries.

Little Sparrow: Abigail Washburn splits her time between the United States and China, and her music reflects the folk traditions of both countries.

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The first of three “residency” gigs for Abigail Washburn at Relix Variety Theatre last week turned out to be a nice showcase for performer and venue alike.

Washburn, the globe-trotting art-folk-rock banjoist who is managed by Knoxville’s own Ashley Capps, drew a large and enthusiastic crowd to hear material from her forthcoming album, City of Refuge, due out in January on Rounder Records. For many in the audience, it was also a first visit to Relix, an impressive space on North Central (in the aspirational Downtown North district, just up the block from Veg-O-Rama). With its brick walls and church-pew seating, it manages a pleasant balance between comfortable and hip.

You could say the same for Washburn’s music, which draws on folk influences from Appalachia to China (where she lived for a while, and often returns to perform) for its quirky, appealing chamber-pop melodies. The new songs are more “rock” than her previous album with the Sparrow Quartet (a group that includes her husband, banjo wizard Bela Fleck). She has a drummer now and seems a little less precious than before, not a bad thing. But her crystal voice still has its warm sparkle, and onstage she is an affable, jocular bandleader.

You can catch the third and final show of this stand next Wednesday, the 17th. A potluck dinner begins at 6:30 p.m., with the music starting around 8. And it’s free, too.

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