Aoife O'Donovan Fiddle Camp
Welcome to the 2016 event of the Minnesota music season;
El Rancho Manana was booked, but not Duluth. The reason
for all the excitement, not seen before here or since is,
Annual Aoife O'Donovan Fiddle Camp is about to commence.
Friday night was set aside for a staged contest for locals,
A talent contest of sorts, to showcase pickers with vocals.
Several bands shone like new money, but still did not win.
The St. Louis County crowd stuffed the ballots once again.
Bertram Haversham and the Bayfront Ramblers took the vote;
with no consolation for second place, that's all she wrote.
For their efforts, the boys will take the stage, authorized
to perform a tune alongside Aoife. Won't she be surprised?
She arrived Friday night, no one knew she was in proximity,
their rented tour bus affording her a measure of anonymity.
Her entourage, Steve, Anthony, and Carl, driver of the bus,
step out, wearing tee shirts proclaiming, "She's With Us."
Saturday morning workshops start promptly at nine, or ten.
Anthony's tutorial on playing mandola is the first to begin.
At another tent, Steve instructs students on Celtic Drums,
Aoife nods in approval, silently rendering Gaelic hums...
At high noon, she takes the stage, fielding random queries.
No question is repeated, until well into the third series,
She explains, moonshine does not come from a crooked still.
Aoife fills in anecdotes of her ride on the music treadmill.
This is the first festival season that she has done solos,
so cannot defer quiz models designed for Thile or Jarosz,
but she is a master of spinning toward her own expertise.
When it comes to song suggestions, "Try a few of these..."
So as to not interrupt, notes are placed at edge of stage.
"Why don't you play a Martin? When did you quit The Rage?"
"Do you know Rabbit in a Log?" (Seems someone is dyslexic.)
"How do you play your guitar so clean without using a pick?"
The game of twenty-plus questions is scattered yet seamless;
most she knows the answers, the rest she hazards a guess.
Shy and unassuming, this girl to the patrons, comes alive,
closing, to their mutual chagrin, "See you back at five!"
After the session, the group leisurely strolls the grounds,
Stopping along the way to sample foods, on their rounds.
The line was long at the Luke's Lutefisk on a Stick stand.
Too bad they ran out of lemonade. This was not well planned.
Five o'clock, the air is filled with an eerie mournful sound
of lawn chairs taking weight, those not sitting on the ground.
Bertram is introduced to Aoife, they step to a microphone;
as soon as his banjo rings, she wishes she was onstage alone.
It seems, "Hot Corn, Cold Corn" was the only song both knew.
Fare you well, Uncle Bert, see you never, when this is through.
As bad as he sang, even to point of misinterpreting a verse,
The Bayfront Ramblers, by any comparison, were even worse.
As the contest winners exited to applause, did a sound linger?
Aoife turned to see Bertram, tuning his banjo, near the singer.
"What key is your next one, little lady?" his question her way.
"If you don't leave, I will kick your shins. You cannot stay."
Ever the consummate professional, she regained her composure,
and navigated through her set. It was truly a magical hour;
her compositions, Irish tunes, sampling Joni and Emmylou,
with an encore sing along of "Oh Mama" and she was through.
At dusk we find Aoife and merry band, walking along the groves,
as parking lot pickers, strength in numbers, gather in droves.
Surrounded by amateur aficionados here in the Land of Prince,
there was one familiar out of tune banjo. That made her wince.
She was approached by a man with a camera, about next year.
Dave, along with committee members, Lia and Deanna, made clear,
come next season, the festival would have a new theme in play.
When revealed, polka was in the offing, Aoife turned away.
She found herself eye to eye with a stranger. In his zeal,
he sounded the news, "She is here. Aoife O'Donovan is here."
As her band mates and bus driver watched in mock disbelief,
Aoife turned and scribbled her name, then gave him relief.
"Yes, I met her, and asked for an autograph. She gave me two.
It is only right that I keep one, and give the other to you."
The mentally challenged fellow meant no harm, and as such,
prized possession in his hand warranted, "Thank you so much!"
That night, she mused, there is a song here, to be found,
and write she did, on the way to Boston, in that Greyhound.
She envisioned Mystic River, fourteen hundred miles to arrive,
thinking, "Hope we don't get lowed bridged on Storrow Drive."
A wake up call from the desk, all is not as it might seem.
Here in Hollywood, California, Aoife awoke from her dream.
At his final Prairie Home Companion, Garrison's reprieve,
She says to Keillor, "I've a story, even you won't believe."
Michael Todd (2016)
Disclaimer: Aoife O'Donovan is a favorite singer of mine. I saw a video of her, and in it, Sarah Jarosz mentioned the song she was about to perform was one she learned from Aoife, early in her career, at a workshop. Aoife responded with something along the lines of "Y'all come to fiddle camp." Well, she probably did not say "Y'all" but you know I tend to embellish. Anyway, that is where I got the idea for this poem. As for the rest, it just all fell into place.
Aoife was onstage with Garrison Keillor, for his final Prairie Home Companion appearance, in July. That part is real. Also real, is her website, which can be found here...