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A sit down with Aoife O’Donovan

Aoife O’Donovan — founder and lead vocalist of the bluegrass band Crooked Still — sings “Oh Mama” during the concert. O’Donovan was the guest vocalist of the 2018 Symphony in the Flint Hills. (Photo by Amy DeVault)

While capturing pictures at the Symphony of Flint Hills event this year, I bumped into Aoife O’Donovan, this year’s special guest performer, during her sound check. She graciously sat down with me, as we talked about family, music, and the event.


Q: You are a member in three different bands, how do you manage your time between them all?

A: I founded the band Crooked Still while in college with a bunch of great musicians. We toured Europe and Australia until 2012. I then started taking on a bunch of solo projects and recorded two solo albums. I also had a band in the mid-2000s called Sometimes Why. I was also on an album called The Goat Rodeo Sessions with Yo Yo Ma and Chris Thile. The thing that I am doing now, which I’m really excited about, is touring with two other women, Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz, in a band I’m With Her.

Q: When you graduated college, you had a list of producers that you wanted to work with first, what made you want to work with those producers specifically?

A: I heard a record produced by the great Tucker Martine when I was in college, or just out of college, and I was many years away from making a solo album, but I heard this production and I was just like “wow.” That’s how I want my music to sound on an album.  It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I ended up meeting Tucker at a show and asking him if he’d be interested in working together and he was. I think it was the way he was able to capture sounds and help songwriters take their songs and take them into a fully blown story.

Q: With your child only being 7 months old, do you find it hard being away from her?

A: I’m lucky. I get to bring her with me. She’s not with me this weekend since I am only here for the weekend, but I’ve been on tour with I’m With Her since February and it’s been amazing to travel because we have a great person that takes care of the kids and it’s great! When I’m working she’s asleep. I get to hang out with her all day. She’s a great traveler and I think it’s great when kids get to experience different things.

Q: How is performing by yourself different from performing in a band?

A: Performing totally solo is an interesting thing, it took a while to get used to. It was scary at first, kind of daunting, but then you find that you have this freedom performing alone that you don’t have when performing in a band. You can change things up. There’s nothing like playing with other musicians. I’ve been having so much fun this year playing with Sara and Sarah because it’s like we are one organism when we are on stage. Even when we are away for a couple of weeks, when we start singing, it’s like oh there are the other two parts of this thing that we are missing.

Q: During rehearsals yesterday, I noticed that you have a key ear. If anything is off or doesn’t sound right you are right on it. Do you take that approach with everything regarding music?

A: Yeah, I tend to listen pretty hard and I am, for better or for worse, outspoken. I am not afraid to always try and make things better. I was so impressed working with the Kansas City Symphony yesterday. Working with them was like a dream. I was so impressed. They were so musical and prepared. They played my music beautifully and I can’t wait to do it on stage here.

Q: What do you want people to know about you and your music?

A: I don’t really have a goal in that way. I just want my music, and music in general, to continue to bring people together and that people will find comfort and experience a wide range of emotions when experiencing my music, or any music for that matter.

Q: You have a pretty crazy tour setup — do ever get worn down going through the tour?

A: I don’t feel like you ever get worn down going through the tour if you are a lifer musician. What gets hard is once you stop the tour. When you’re on the road making music; if it’s good and you are lucky to make music that you believe in with people that you love…it’s…it’s honestly…

Final Thoughts:

A:  I’m so happy to be here. Sometimes when you travel to some place, you don’t know what to expect. Being here this weekend, just the way I’ve been treated and the hospitality that I’ve been shown by the people of Chase County and everyone at Symphony in the Hills has just been incredible. It’s been a really fun weekend.

— by Ian Knight