Telluride Bluegrass #50: Yasmin Williams, Main Stage 6/18!

The 50th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival takes place June 15 – June 18. The event is sold out. There is no waitlist. If you are looking for tickets, use the Festivarian Forum to connect with other festival-goers. But tickets are still available for Nightgrass. (Click here.)

Learn more about other Planet Bluegrass festivals at www.bluegrass.com.

Please scroll down to check out our podcast with Yasmin Williams.

Go here for more about the history of Telluride Bluegrass. (Back to 2009.)

Yasmin, credit Zach Pigg.

Yasmin Williams is one of the fastest-rising stars in finger-style guitar. Not to mention a film composer.

“Yasmin Williams has described her approach to acoustic guitar as a kind of creative problem-solving,” wrote Pitchfork..”Drawn to the instrument after mastering Guitar Hero 2, she dreamed of tapping along the fretboard like rock virtuosos before her. Unable to replicate their style, she laid the guitar on her lap, tuned the strings in harmony with each other, and played it like a keyboard. Drawing from a love of hip-hop, she sought an underlying rhythm throughout her wordless, melodic compositions. Without an accompanist, she attached a kalimba—a type of thumb piano—at the bottom of her instrument, plucking it with her right hand while her left navigated the strings.

“Williams’ inventive style, which has also involved wearing tap shoes and taking a cello bow to her instrument, has made her stand out in the field of solo guitarists. But the power of her music is its immediacy. The 24-year-old is not only a skilled technician but also an instinctive songwriter, penning memorable compositions that, even at their most open-ended, proceed in a loose verse-chorus structure. Her smooth and immersive playing belies the complexity below the surface…”

With her ambidextrous and pedidextrous, multi-instrumental techniques of her own making and influences ranging from video games to West African griots, subverting the predominantly white male canon of finger-style guitar, Yasmin Williams is truly a guitarist for the new century. So too is her sophomore release, Urban Driftwood, an album for and of these times. Though the record is instrumental, its songs follow a narrative arc of 2020, illustrating both a personal journey and a national reckoning, through Williams’ evocative, lyrical compositions…,” raved Pitchfork.

Yasmin Williams grew up in northern Virginia where various musical genres from smooth jazz to hip-hop were played in her household. Now 24, Yasmin began playing electric guitar in 8th grade, after beating the video game Guitar Hero 2 on the expert level. Initially inspired by Jimi Hendrix and other shredders she was familiar with through the game, quickly moving on to acoustic guitar, finding it allowed her to combine fingerstyle techniques with the lap-tapping she had developed through Guitar Hero, as well as perform as a solo artist.

By 10th grade, Yasmin had released an EP of songs of her own. Deriving no lineage from “American primitive” and rejecting the problematic connotations of the term, Yasmin’s influences include the smooth jazz and R&B she listened to as a young girl, Hendrix and Nirvana, go-go and hip-hop.

Her love for the band Earth, Wind and Fire prompted Yasmin to incorporate the kalimba into her songwriting. Yasmin also draws inspiration from other Black women guitarists such as Elizabeth Cotten, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Algia Mae Hinton. On Urban Driftwood, Yasmin references the music of West African griots through the inclusion of kora (which she recently learned) and by featuring the hand drumming of 150th generation djeli of the Kouyate family, Amadou Kouyate, on the title track.

After graduating New York University with a BM in Music Theory and Composition in December 2017, Yasmin released her first album, Unwind, in 2018. That charting favorably all over Amazon and iTunes outlets.

Since its release of her sophomore effort in January 2021, Urban Driftwood has received big praise from the likes of Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, The New York Times NPR Music, No Depression, Paste Magazine, and more, such as:

“Williams, 25, is one of the country’s most imaginative young solo guitarists. Released in January, her second album, Urban Driftwood, represents a clear break with the form’s stoic, folk-rooted mores.” – Grayson Haver Currin, The New York Times.

“Above all, ‘Urban Driftwood’ is her challenge to widespread preconceptions about the music made by young Black people or acoustic guitarists. It’s Williams’s achievement that she makes that challenge sound so calming and beautiful…“(She) puts a fresh spin on finger-style guitar.” – John Lingan, The Washington Post.

“When 24-year-old instrumentalist Yasmin Williams plays guitar, she conjures new possibilities and stories from the instrument.” – Jonathan Bernstein, Rolling Stone.

“Williams is all the things that finger-picked guitar usually isn’t – young, female, Black, digitally native, unabashed by tradition and open to all sorts of multicultural influences. She’s a fresh breeze blowing through a sometimes musty corner of music, and let’s just say it again, a little bit of sunshine, too.” ️- Jennifer Kelly, Dusted.

Urban Driftwood is a dizzyingly magnificent as starting up at the night sky on a clear night and seeing the universe unfold before your very eyes.” Laura Stanley – No Depression.

“Williams’ music transcends the standard idea of what guitarists should do.” – NPR Music

“Her fingerstyle acoustic guitar-playing makes one of popular music’s most familiar instruments sound new, capturing the luminous, evanescent beauty of the song’s namesake via bright harmonics, overlapping cascades of fingerpicked notes and intermittent lap-tapped percussion”Paste Magazine.

Yasmin was recently listed as one of the “25 New and Rising Artists Shaping the Future of Music in 2023” by Pitchfork.

To learn more, check out Yasmin Williams’ podcast:

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