As strange as it may seem, Boston has a booming bluegrass scene.
“It’s so vibrant,” said Aoife O’Donovan, lead singer of the alt-bluegrass band Crooked Still. “The old-timers in Boston, the guys who have been playing this music since the ’60s and ’70s, they’re still there and they’re welcoming to newcomers.”
Although bluegrass thrived there in the 1980s and ’90s, O’Donovan said, the scene saw a resurgence in 2000 with the release of the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
“People were getting exposed to it in the mainstream,” she said.
Now the region is home to such artists as Della Mae, Matt Glaser, Sarah Jarosz and, of course, Crooked Still.
“I like calling it a funky string band,” O’Donovan said of Crooked Still, which plays a contemporary blend of bluegrass, rock, pop, country and folk. “It’s music you can tap your foot to and sing along to.”
The daughter of an Irish immigrant, O’Donovan grew up in a musical Newton, Mass., family.
As a child, she studied Irish step dancing and spent her summers on the Emerald Isle immersed in
traditional song and dance. Both her parents played in Irish bar bands.
“The Irish connection definitely exposed me to a lot of music,” said O’Donovan, whose father still hosts a Celtic music radio show in Boston.
In high school, she developed an appreciation for famed folk singer Joan Baez. Then, during her freshman year at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, O’Donovan got her first exposure to Indian music, klezmer and jazz.
One night she and fellow student Corey diMario went to the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge.
“That was the first time I heard bluegrass live and it kind of blew my mind,” O’Donovan said. “I wanted to be part of this community.”
She and diMario, who plays double-bass, teamed up with Berklee College of Music cellist Rushad Eggleston (cello) and MIT graduate student/bassist Gregory Liszt to form Crooked Still in 2001.
An invitation to perform at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island came in 2004, ensuring the band’s future success.
Over the past decade, Crooked Still has released four full-length studio albums — including 2010’s “Some Strange Country,” recorded during a snowbound studio session in Charlottesville, Va. — and toured extensively in the United States, Europe and Australia.
The band has also seen a few lineup changes. Eggleston left the band in late 2007, while cellist Tristan Clarridge and fiddler Brittany Haas joined Crooked Still the following January.
Crooked Still is currently touring in support of its new EP, “Friends of Fall.”
With the exception of two tunes, each song was chosen and arranged by a different bandmember. O’Donovan’s pick, “The Peace of Wild Things/Dayblind,” combines her original music with the words of poet Wendell Barry.
According to O’Donovan, the “Friends of Fall” tour comes at a critical juncture for the band, which plans to take 2012 off to pursue other projects.
“We’re certainly not breaking up by any means, but easing up,” O’Donovan explained. “Crooked Still has been the main priority for the last decade, and there are so many seedlings that are ready to sprout.”
A member of the neo-traditional folk trio Sometymes Why, the singer has several side projects — including guest vocalist stints with the fiddle collective Childsplay and Punch Brothers banjo player Noam Pikelny.
Most recently, she collaborated with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer, mandolin player Chris Thile and fiddler Stuart Duncan on the album “The Goat Rodeo Sessions.” It hit store shelves Oct. 25.
“It’s all one career. I’m a singer, and it’s my job,” said O’Donovan, who released her first solo recording, “Blue Light,” in June 2010. A full-length solo album is due out in 2012.
Meanwhile, O’Donovan is gaining recognition from the likes of USA Today, which heralded her as “the newest darling of the Americana set.”
Alison Krauss recorded O’Donovan’s song, “Lay My Burden Down,” on her album “Paper Airplane.” (It’s featured on the soundtrack of 2010’s “Get Low.”)
Her music can also be heard on HBO’s “True Blood” and ABC’s “Private Practice.”
“The cool thing about this world is it’s the best job ever,” O’Donovan said. “We get to play music (and) hang out with our friends.”