FreshGrass Festival: New gigs for bluegrass artist Aoife O'Donovan


NORTH ADAMS, MASS. — Life is getting interesting for Massachusetts-based singer/songwriter Aoife O'Donovan.

O'Donovan, 34, will be performing at 7:50 p.m., Saturday, at this year's FreshGrass Festival at Mass MoCA. The FreshGrass date is part of a tour in support of her latest CD, "In The Magic Hour," released in January to great critical acclaim.

In addition, she was recently named as a member of the new house band for the latest incarnation of the "A Prairie Home Companion" show.

O'Donovan has performed on "Companion" a number of times. In addition, one of the musicians on "Magic Hour" was Chris Thile. Thile also happens to be Companion's new host.

O'Donovan is a seasoned veteran of FreshGrass these days.

"I've played there four times before," she said in a phone interview. "It's a great venue. I love FreshGrass. I love the people, I love the bands and I love the energy. It's always a great place to play."

O'Donovan is an Eastern Massachusetts girl, born in Newton. She spent her childhood and early teen summers in Ireland, playing and singing with her extended family. She became interested in American folk music in the '90s.

"I used to listen to people like Joan Baez and Paul Simon," she recalled. "The Indigo Girls were big, too. I listened to a lot of singer-songwriters from the '90s."

O'Donovan's professional career began as a member of Crooked Still, a band she formed with Corey DiMario, Rushad Eggelston and Gregory Liszt in Boston.

"Corey and I were both students at the New England Conservatory of Music," she recalled. They met Eggelston and Liszt in the summer of 2001.

"Our first gig was at the Cantab Lounge," she said, referring to the venerable folk/bluegrass Mecca in Cambridge's Central Square. "I was 18."

O'Donovan performed and remained in school, graduating from the conservatory in 2003.

In 2005, O'Donovan, along with fellow folk singers Kristin Andreassen and Ruth Ungar Merenda formed what has been described as neo-traditional folk noir band Sometimes Why.

When that label is repeated to O'Donovan, her shudder of distaste is almost palpable over the phone.

"I don't know how to put words to it," she said, when asked for her description. "Everyone has their own ideas about what we sound like. Jazz-influenced? Folk-influenced? I don't know, really. It's an ongoing struggle to define what we do."

From 2010-16, she has released four solo albums, all to critical acclaim. The subjects of her songs, she said, originate from different sources.

"There's no one source," she said. "Travel helps. Literature helps. Life experiences help. It depends on a lot of things."

The process itself, said O'Donovan, varies also.

"It could take an hour, it could take days," she explained about how long it takes to compose her songs. "It's different every day. I don't really think about how long it takes to write a song. I'm just really happy that I'm doing what I love to do."


What: FreshGrass Music Festival, more than 50 bands playing throughout the weekend

When: Friday, Sept. 16, through Sunday, Sept. 18. Performances times vary

Where: Mass MoCA, 87 Marshall St., North Adams, Mass.

Cost: Adult: three-day pass $99, Friday pass $39, Saturday or Sunday pass $60; Child, 7-16: three-day pass $46, Friday pass $19, Saturday or Sunday pass $29



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