Q&A: Aoife O’Donovan on Crooked Still’s Reunion Tour & Upcoming Projects With Sarah Jarosz & Sara Watkins
Aoife O’Donovan, keeping up her reputation as one of the busiest women in bluegrass, isn’t taking this weekend off like the rest of us. Instead, she’ll be joining Greg Liszt (The Deadly Gentleman), Brittany Haas (Haas Kowert Tice), Tristan Clarridge (The Bee Eaters) and Corey DiMario for a quick reunion tour by Crooked Still – a band that dominated the festival scene for years and kicked off successful tangential projects for its members. Coming off of a three year hiatus, the band will spread four New England shows across the weekend and then…keep us waiting for the next one.
I caught up with Aoife about the reunion and a few other upcoming projects with Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins.
Whose idea was it to get the band back together for this little tour?
In the spring of 2014 we got a call from Jim Olsen, our label head up at Signature Sounds. He was in the early stages of planning for a big 20th Anniversary concert and asked us to be involved. It seemed like the perfect push to get the band back together, and miraculously, schedules aligned! We’ve been off the road now since January 2012, so everyone is really looking forward to these shows. In addition to the Sunday matinee for Signature Sounds (Tickets) in Northampton, MA, we’ll kick things off on Friday night in Rockland, ME (SOLD OUT), and then play TWO shows in our hometown of Cambridge, MA (Tickets: Early Show, Late Show).
With Crooked Still’s five albums of work spanning seven years (not to mention that damn fine live album), what can fans expect to see in these sets tour?
We’ll be playing all the old hits! There are some classic Crooked Still tunes that people will want to hear, like our cover of “Orphan Girl” and the old timey tune “Hop High”, but we’ll also play some of our darker numbers from Some Strange Country and Still Crooked. I can’t wait to play “The Golden Vanity” and “Calvary”, and am especially excited about Greg’s song “It’ll End Too Soon…”
Have you been together to rehearse? What’s that been like?
We got together in September for a preview show at Helsinki Hudson, and a friend of the band’s lent us his house in the Berkshires for a rehearsal retreat. We barreled through our repertoire and it felt great to make music together again. We’ve all had such varied musical experiences in our time apart, but the grooves fit together as if no time had passed.
Shifting to you now. Our pals at The Bluegrass Situation recently premiered a gorgeous duet of Sarah Jarosz and you singing Kate Rusby’s “Some Tyrant” (below). Tell us about that and the tour set for next year that pairs you with Jarosz and Sara Watkins.
2015 will see the debut of a new project for me – a trio tour with my dear friends and musical heroines Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz (2015 “I’m With Her” Tour). We decided to take the show on the road after an impromptu set at the Sheridan Opera House during Telluride this past summer – and I can’t wait. So far we only have European dates on the books, but you never know ;-) .
While the rest of us hope for an “I’m With Her” tour in the US, the people of Connecticut get to see you and Sara Watkins play a Christmas show on December 6th. Is this the first time you’re doing that?
Yes! Connecticut! Sara Watkins and I will be singing with The Greater Bridgeport Symphony for A Folk Christmas, on Saturday, December 6th (Tickets). Eric Jacobsen (of Brooklyn Rider and The Knights) is the music director and conductor of GBS, and he’s put together an incredible lineup, including the Fairfield County Children’s Choir and Jeremy Kittel on fiddle and arrangement duties. We’ll sing some classic Christmas tunes, as well as premiere new arrangements of a few original songs. Did you know Bridgeport is SO CLOSE on MetroNorth? I’m super excited about this show and hope to get some NYC pals in the house that night!
A couple months back, I saw three-fourths of Mr. Sun, the project led by legendary fiddler and Berklee professor Darol Anger that also includes mandolin virtuoso Joe Walsh, Grant Gordy on guitar and Ethan Jodziewicz on acoustic bass, at the Bell House in Brooklyn. This Saturday, the power quartet will play songs off their forthcoming record, The People Need Light, at the DROM in the East Village. I’ve been listening to a pre-release recording of the album, which will be released early next year, and have really taken to “A Little Heart’s Ease,” a song that Joe Walsh wrote (check out that tune here, but you’ll have to hit the show or wait for the album to see the band play it).
At FreshGrass earlier this year, the band performed an incredible cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin” along with Emy Phelps on vocals and Alison Brown on banjo that I can’t get enough of.
Brooklyn-based indie string band Cricket Tell The Weather plucked its name from an old-time hoedown scene in a piece of instrumental theater when it first officially formed last year. Like others in the Northeastern old time scene, the band has roots in traditional bluegrass, but ventures into more contemporary arrangements in its self-titled debut (Amazon & Spotify) released in April. I’ve been listening to the album for the last few weeks and caught the band at last month’s Brooklyn Bluegrass Bash. With strong songwriting and instrumentation from Andrea Asprelli (fiddle), Jason Borisoff (guitar), Doug Goldstein (banjo), Dan Tressler (mandolin) and its two bassists and Jeff Picker & Hans Bilger, the band represents one of the most exciting crews of younger folks in the New York bluegrass scene right now.
I shot a few questions over to Andrea and Doug in advance of their shows this coming weekend at the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association Showcase on Friday, Nov 21, and Rockwood (Stage 3) on Saturday, Nov 22. Check out a few videos of the band and as well as a few photos from their performance at the Brooklyn Bluegrass Bash by music photographer Jacob Blickenstaff (shared courtesy of the Bash).
How did Cricket Tell the Weather come together?
The band met through bluegrass festivals and jams in MA, CT, and NY. Festivals are an easy place to meet players from all around the region, but it took a few years of searching to find the right lineup to get the project going. Now the whole band is based out of Brooklyn.
Andrea and Jason have been called out for their great songwriting? Are you writing together or individually?
Andrea: We seem to be the kind of writers where lyrical ideas tend to come easier when we can focus on our own. The lyrics, melody, and basic structure of the songs are usually written before the song is brought to the band. Once the songwriter brings it to the band all the members contribute to the arrangement and try to build the musical textures and dynamics around the idea of the song.
“Salt & Bones” is one of my favorites. What’s the backstory on that one?
Andrea: I was finishing up an AmeriCorps program in Connecticut and began writing the song after reflecting on the whole experience with a few members of my class. The friendships I made with people in the program were inspiring to me. Everyone came from different cultural, racial, and economic backgrounds and it was transformational to me to see how supportive everyone was and how willing people were to put themselves out there and tell their stories. The lines ‘my friend take comfort tell me what you see / place my eyes in you and yours in me’ speak to this experience. The lines ‘write me a letter or sing me a song / paint me a picture of what came along / just to make me feel I’m not alone’ are a reflection on the role I think art plays in building these connections and the importance of communicating our experiences to each other.”
Anything exciting coming up?
Doug: We have plans to record our next album in the Spring. We’re focused on songwriting and original material, so for now we’re getting that honed to where we like it. We’re excited for this next year – to keep growing as a band, get new material out there, and start getting out west and further south.
What’s going on with Doug’s banjo?
Doug: It’s a new kind of banjo I invented that has an extra-low string and a headstock extension for that low string (like on Paul Kowert’s bass). It’s funny that the instrument now has both a short-string, a long string, and extensions going in both directions. It allows me to defy the range limitations of an ordinary 5-string banjo setup.
Come one, come all. Or rather – come one, come to all of Ryan Adam’s shows over the next blessed, glorious week. If you’re counting, there are 4 in total, all of which still have tickets available on StubHub (you didn’t hear that from us).
If there’s something wrong with your brain and you’re not a RA fan, however, there’s a bevy of other acts to see — including Rockwood’s Downtown Comes Uptown series happening tonight and tomorrow. Not to go without mention is Brooklyn’s own Lake Street Dive, who has two Terminal 5 shows back to back.
More must-sees below:
Thursday, November 13
7:30 p.m. — Downtown Comes Uptown feat. Glen David Andrews, Aoife O’Donovan, Elle King, The Spring Standards – Hosted by Rita Houston from WFUV at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2
9:30 p.m. — Caroline Rose / Wild Leaves at Mercury Lounge
Friday, November 14
7:00 p.m. — Lake Street Dive / Amy Helm at Terminal 5
7:00 p.m. — Downtown Comes Uptown feat. The Spring Standards & Aoife O’Donovan at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2
8:00 p.m. — Sallie Ford / Crooked Fingers / And The Kids at Rough Trade
8:00 p.m. — O’Death / Death Vessel / Stone Jack Jones at The Bell House
Saturday, November 15
7:00 p.m. — Damien Rice at the Apollo Theatre
7:00 p.m. — Yonder Mountain String Band / The Larry Keel Experience at Brooklyn Bowl
8:00 p.m. — Ryan Adams / Butch Walker at Carnegie Hall
8:00 p.m. — Lake Street Dive / Parker Millsap at Terminal 5
Sunday, November 16
8:00 p.m. — Relatives at Ace Hotel
9:30 p.m. — Margaret Glaspy at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3
Monday, November 17
7:00 p.m. — Lucinda Williams at Beacon Theatre
8:00 p.m. — Ryan Adams at Carnegie Hall
You’ll be doing lots of cold, wet double-duty toward the end of the week if you decide to brave the “freezing” rain to scope out some great shows, including Newport darling Hozier on Thursday and Cold Specks on Friday.
Your post-brunch plans have already been made for Saturday, as well – we’ll see you at Rockwood Music Hall at 4 o’clock on the dot for a special show from Michael Daves & friends. If you can’t make it, don’t worry – it’ll be live-streamed on Concert Window. And if you’re REALLY failing and miss both, third time’s the charm. Jen Larson will welcome many of the same faces at her EP release show that night at Jalopy.
Saturday, November 8
4:00 p.m. — Michael Daves & Friends / Live ‘Concert Window’ Webcast feat. Sarah Jarosz, Tony Trischka, Chris Eldridge, Jen Larson, & Alex Hargreaves
8:00 p.m. — Mark Lanegan at the Studio at Webster Hall
10:00 p.m. — Jen Larson with Michael Daves, Tony Trischka, Barry Mitterhoff, Ron Feinberg, Ben Fraker, and Larry Cook at Jalopy (EP release)
Over the last decade, Copenhagen’s Danish String Quartet has gained the attention of the global classical scene, winning all kinds of recognition and performing on some of the world’s most prestigious stages. But earlier this year, the Quartet of young, bearded, not-so-classical looking Danish guys released a collection of 400 year-old Scandinavian folk songs from The Faroe Islands – a place with the kinds of unbelievable landscapes that it’s hard to imagine anything bad could come from them. Released in May and featured this week in a Tiny Desk Concert, Wood Works (Amazon & Spotify) is mostly made up of thirteen Nordic folk tunes, many of which are wedding songs, that are absolutely stunning and echo the beauty of the land they came from. The album is hard to classify, mixing flavors of Baroque-era songs with the spirit of Irish or Appalachian folk and fiddle tunes. It’s the perfect album for reading and drinking whiskey to escape a cold night in Brooklyn.
The Quartet performs at Subculture in Manhattan on November 12th.