It’s not every Sunday afternoon you see a stupendously gifted Grammy Award winning star strolling around the front bar of Paddy Finn’s in Kilteevan, endeavouring to send a text message in an area not blessed with the best mobile phone coverage.
“I dropped my kids off in Elphin” Ms. Rhiannon Giddens explained a few minutes later as the Roscommon People caught up with the star attraction of this year’s South Roscommon Singers Festival.
The Elphin ‘connection’ had been briefly alluded to during the previous night’s Gospel Concert in Knockcroghery (we will return to the Elphin link).
Back in Kilteevan on Sunday, up to 100 guests had gathered for the presentation of the Annie McNulty Award.
The festival-goers were still buzzing after a great concert on Saturday and some terrific sessions over the weekend. David and Alice Wylde were a compelling act all weekend, while it was obvious to everyone that the organisers had pulled off a real coup with the presence of Rhiannon Giddens, a native of North Carolina who is lead singer, violinist, banjo player and a founding member of the Grammy-winning country, blues and old-time music band Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Away from the crowd, and moments before her brilliant set in the intimate Kilteevan venue on Sunday, Rhiannon told the Roscommon People that she was very much enjoying her visit.
“I’m loving Roscommon. I’m really enjoying my visit. The Gospel Concert (in Knockcroghery) was very enjoyable…everyone did beautifully, there was a real spiritual vibe. I’m happy when an event has the right spirit”.
While born in America and now an extremely busy perfomer on the international stage, Rhiannon has actually been living in Ireland (Limerick) for some years (she also has homes in Nashville and North Carolina). She married Irish musician Michael Laffan (they are now separated).
Her career is “going great”, although “there aren’t enough gigs in Ireland”. But she has performed solo in Vicar Street and is looking forward to an upcoming Music Network tour. She regularly tours in Europe and the United States.
She has some acting experience too. Many readers will recognise Rhiannon from her role in the very popular television series ‘Nashville’. Its run has ended in the USA but seasons five and six are due to air in Ireland. She plays Hannah Lee ‘Hallie’ Jordan, a social worker with a great singing voice.
“I loved being a part of the show and I am open to more acting roles if they arise. It was great fun (working on the series)…I did enjoy it. For me, I felt it helped me to grow as a songwriter…I wrote all the songs that I sang in the show”.
On Sunday evening, Rhiannon was off to perform at the Hawks Well Theatre in Sligo. Before that, she was presented with the Annie McNulty Award in Paddy Finn’s.
And that Elphin connection? “I have two children, Aoife and Caoimhín. I’m separated from their father (Michael)…it’s very amicable. Michael’s brother-in-law lives in Elphin and the kids are having a great time there now!”
Later, she told her hosts that she enjoyed her first visit to Roscommon as a performer and hopes it won’t be her last, to which Declan Coyne of the organising committee replied “We’ll hold you to that!”