Excerpted from Jillpoke Bohemia:
An Oral History
In the fall of 20__, Jillpoke Bohemia hit the road for an East Coast tour in support of their major-label debut, the critically acclaimed Americana Gothic. Dubbed the Bohemian Babylon Tour, these shows were marked by spirited performances that belied the behind-the-scenes tensions threatening to derail the duo just as they were poised for a commercial breakthrough.
TOMMY LENTO (Longtime friend and fan of Jillpoke Bohemia): I guess you could say my wife and I were the Jillpoke Bohemian equivalent of Deadheads, in that we followed Kieran and Darby all the way from Boston to Miami on that tour. It was their first headline tour—another Maine band called the Willy-Wags actually opened several of those shows for them. They had finally traded their old beater van for a rented tour bus and it seemed like they were on their way. Looking back, I doubt very many people would have guessed just how close they came to calling it quits.
JULIE LENTO (Tommy’s wife and fellow Jillpoke fan): To their credit, Darby and Kieran never let whatever personal problems they had stop them from giving that tour everything they had, musically. They rocked every stage they played that fall, and I do mean rocked. Truly, they were so loud and so freaking fast, you forgot sometimes that you were listening to a two-piece string band. But anyone who ever went to a Jillpoke Bohemia show thinking they were going to see a retro or old-timey act was in for a surprise. To us, they were every bit as much a rock and roll band as the White Stripes were, only better. And they never pretended to be a brother-sister act—ha!
TALYA McCAFFREY (Jillpoke Bohemia webmaster): I used to work with Kieran at Do Rei Mi Records in Portland, before he quit to do the music thing full-time. I missed him when he left, but I knew it was for the best. He and Darby were just too good not to put themselves out there where they could be seen and heard by a larger audience.
Later, when Kieran offered me a job administering their website and social media pages, I was ecstatic. He and Darby were engaged to be married and about to go out on tour, and I had no idea things were anything less than great between them. But once they were on the road, I really didn’t see a whole lot of them.
FIONA KIMBLE-PRATT (Kieran’s sister and former manager of Jillpoke Bohemia): They hired me to manage their tour. They probably didn’t need a business manager, and I had no real experience in that field, but they took a chance on me anyway, probably to keep me out of trouble. I’d just gotten divorced and had moved back to Maine from Utah with a major seven-year itch to scratch. Imagine going from being a good Mormon wife and mother to a thirty-year-old party girl in zero to 60. I can’t deny that I was behaving irresponsibly, but turning the big 3-0 really threw me for a loop. So, managing a musical act became a healthy diversion during what I like to call my premature midlife crisis. We all kind of baby-sat each other. At any rate, despite a rocky start, I honestly think going out on the road together ended up being a good thing for all of us.
MAGGIE KIMBLE (Mother of Fiona and Kieran): I didn’t encourage or discourage Fiona from going out on the road with the Darby and Kieran. I knew it would expose her to even more temptations, which she didn’t need, but I also believed that Darby especially might be a positive influence. Darby’s no angel, but she’s got common sense, which I thought Fiona lacked at that time. I had tried talking to her myself, but I didn’t have a lot of credibility at the time, given that I was seeing a man half my age and acting a little bit crazy myself.
JULIE LENTO: The first inkling we got that Kieran and Darby were going through a rough patch was when we got a chance to visit with Kieran backstage, after a show in Ithaca, New York. Onstage, as Jillpoke Bohemia, he and Darby were still firing on all cylinders, but as a couple, they were just having a harder time maintaining that same level of, what—symbiosis? Kieran’s generally the more upbeat one of the two, so you kind of know when things aren’t quite right with him. And something was definitely off between him and Darby.
KIERAN KIMBLE: We were working through some personal stuff, yes. But there were other things going on at the same time. Darby had more reservations about the major label thing than I did, and there was some debate about what direction Jillpoke Bohemia would take once we were done with the tour. There were a lot of things coming at us at once—sponsorship deals, endorsements, TV appearances. I didn’t see anything wrong with making music videos or letting Martha White sponsor the tour, but those were compromises that Darby only agreed to reluctantly, and it caused some resentment.
DARBY FAGEN: I never thought musicians should have to whore themselves to make a decent living. I didn’t write “Burning Down the Bars” to sell fucking buffalo wings, and I didn’t think it should be used that way, no matter what they paid us. And despite what some people have said, I was never just cutting off my nose to spite my face when I rejected those kinds of offers. It doesn’t bother me that Loretta Lynn used to be a spokeswoman for Crisco, but as much as I love Loretta’s music, I never wanted to go down that road myself. That wasn’t me, and Kieran knew that wasn’t me, which is why I used to get so damned pissed when he would argue with me about it.
JASMINE “JAZZIE” JONES (Darby’s friend and former co-worker): Believe it or not, Darby’s a lot less hardline about that stuff than she used to be. Ten years ago, if you’d told her one of her tunes would be the theme song of a dumb-ass Nicole Kidman sitcom, she’d have told you what do do with yourself. Now it’s more like, “Pfh.” Is it really worth getting all worked up about that shit? At least she’s getting paid.
Just don’t get her started on Keith Urban.
FIONA KIMBLE-PRATT: They weren’t really fighting or anything, but they weren’t talking to each other a whole lot either. They’d get a hotel room together, but then they’d find excuses not to be alone with each other at night. Over time, as they got used to having me around, I became their go-between. They could convey things to each other through me that they couldn’t or wouldn’t say to each other, directly.
MAGGIE KIMBLE: Darby and Kieran had always had their ups and downs, as a couple. They’d break up, see other people, then get back together for a while, only to break up again. This time it was a little bit different, and there was a little more to it than Darby just not wanting to “sell out.” Kieran’s ex-fiancee had recently had a baby. Kieran wasn’t the father, but he became involved with the birth, accidentally. He and Darby had lost a baby of their own when Darby miscarried, and I think that whole thing with Kieran’s ex and her child just brought up a lot of that old sadness between them. I really worried they were on the verge of calling off their engagement, which, after all they’d been through, was heartbreaking to contemplate. There had been too many divorces and abandonments in the family already, including my divorce from Kieran and Fiona’s father. It was hard not to wonder if Frank and I might be partly responsible for all the drama and dysfunction in our children’s lives.
FIONA KIMBLE-PRATT: Somewhere along the way, Darby and I started hanging out more, between shows. At first, I was really insecure around her, because I worried what she might think about me, given what she and my family already knew. Also, I knew that she and my mother had bonded, and I was jealous of that relationship, because it seemed like Darby was more of a daughter to my mother than I was.
And then there was the whole drinking thing…
MAGGIE KIMBLE: Another reason I thought it might be good for Fiona to go out on tour with her brother and Darby was that Kieran and Darby didn’t drink or do drugs. I’m a recovering alcoholic, and my ex-husband has a drinking problem, so when Fiona got divorced and started doing it up more, I worried that she might have inherited the gene.
Of course, Darby had her own issues with alcohol…
DARBY FAGEN: I’d been straight-edge since before I was even old enough to buy liquor, but there were a couple of lapses in judgment that occurred in my late twenties, and Kieran’s mom was one of the few people who knew about them. I’ve been drunk only twice in my life, but the second time things got so out of hand it nearly did me in. I don’t know if that makes me an alcoholic or not, but both my parents were, so it’s a concern. I guess it always will be.
FIONA KIMBLE-PRATT: I’d done some underage drinking in college, but that stopped when I married David, because of the whole Mormon thing. I got smashed the day our divorce was finalized, and it made me remember how much I liked drinking—maybe too much. Ma had warned me not to drink in front of Darby, so I didn’t. And the more she and I hung out, the less I drank, until eventually I just stopped. Frankly, I was a little surprised that I didn’t miss it more.
JULIE LENTO: I could see that Darby and Fiona were spending more time together. Darby and I were friendly, but we weren’t close, mainly because she’s such a hard person to get close to. I really don’t know why she and Fiona hit it off, but they did. I didn’t trust Fiona myself, just because of her reputation.
FIONA KIMBLE-PRATT: [Bonding with Darby] didn’t happen overnight. It takes some doing to get Darby to open up even a little bit. But she did with me. She started asking me what it was like to be married, and what had gone wrong between me and my ex. She knew that I had cheated on David and had done some partying since the divorce, but she didn’t hold it against me. I was really surprised by how nonjudgmental she actually was, but it would be a while before I knew the story behind that. She did confess to me that two of her biggest fears were getting drunk again and cheating on Kieran, not necessarily in that order. That’s when I realized she was getting cold feet about marrying my brother.
Once the subject of my sleeping around was broached, we became pretty candid with each other. Darby even ended up getting a pretty good song out of it.
TALYA McCAFFREY: I think “The Non-Virgin” had a bigger ripple effect than Darby ever thought it would. Basically, it’s a song about this high school girl with a reputation for sleeping around. Maybe the reputation was rightly earned, but what no one knows about the girl is that she was sexually abused when she was eleven. Darby has admitted publicly that she basically wrote that song about herself, but even before that, it ended up striking a chord with a lot of girls and women who‘d had similar experiences.
MAGGIE: I wept when I heard that song. The person—no, the animal—who had abused Darby was actually one of her father’s drinking buddies. Her grandmother found out about it and wanted to gut the guy with a kitchen knife, but cooler heads prevailed. She was fighting Darby’s parents for custody when they were killed in a car accident. They were both drunk. It was all very sad.
TALYA McCAFFREY: Part of my current job is screening Jillpoke Bohemia fan mail, and even now Darby gets a lot of letters from girls who identify with the “The Non-Virgin.” She reads every one of them. One time I showed her this e-mail from a young girl who’d been in a really dark place and said Darby’s song kept her from taking her own life. I think that was the closest to tears I‘ve ever seen Darby.
FIONA KIMBLE-PRATT: Darby and I got so we were able to tell each other things we couldn’t tell anyone else. We called it guerrilla therapy. I guess it worked. At least we were able to keep each other from doing stuff we would have regretted.
TOMMY LENTO: If Jillpoke Bohemia had an entourage, I guess we were part of it. At least Julie and I were privy to some of what was going on offstage, if not everything…
JULIE LENTO: The Willy-Wags had a bass player who looked like Henry Rollins. He was kind of an ass, but he was cute, and he liked Darby. He told her he was a Republican, but I think he just did that to get a rise out of her, because most people know Darby’s own politics are just to the left of Che Guevara.
TOMMY LENTO: The guy called himself Wolf—how sad is that? He was a poser. I didn’t take him seriously. I certainly didn’t see him as someone who could have come between Darby and Kieran, if they hadn’t been having problems.
JULIE LENTO: This Wolf character would say things to bait Darby, like George W. Bush had been the greatest president ever, or Ted Nugent was his god, blah, blah, blah. You know how schoolboys will taunt the girls they like the most? It was like that. I don’t know if the attraction was mutual, but Darby put up with it longer than I thought she ever would have. She’d just roll her eyes and let him flirt.
FIONA KIMBLE-PRATT: Wolf could be obnoxious. He would make innuendos, like Darby and I should hook up with him for a threesome or whatever. It was Darby he really wanted, but he would come on to me too, just to make her jealous. She actually caught him feeling me up once. She tried to act like she didn’t give a shit, but I could tell it got to her a little bit. She wouldn’t talk to me for about a day.
TOMMY LENTO: Kieran’s an affable guy, but he could not bring himself to like Wolfie boy. I don’t know what the dude did to provoke it—probably said something disrespectful to
Darby—but one day, in a parking lot in Baltimore, Kieran just hauled off and slugged the guy. Put him on his ass. Messed up his own hand doing it, though. Darby came over and was looking at his hand when Wolf got back up and sucker-punched Kieran. That was when Darby took her guitar and laid the guy out flat. Knocked him out cold.
Fortunately, it was late at night and there was no one around to call the cops.
TALYA McCAFFREY: Bohemian Babylon is one of my all-time favorite live albums, and I’m not just saying that because I worked for Kieran and Darby. It reminds me a little bit of Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty, without the dope. They even recorded their own live version of “Rosie,” which didn’t make it on the finished album, but became a B-side to “Talking Interstate Blues.”
JULIE LENTO: For a while, I seriously wondered if Darby and Kieran would even still be together at the end of that tour. The thing with Wolf changed that. If anything, they ended up even tighter than they were before. There was a subtle shift in their performances, too, I think, which you can kind of hear on parts of the live album.
TOMMY LENTO: Somewhere between Philly and Atlanta, Darby dyed her hair blonde. The first time she stepped onstage that way, everything got really quiet. Then she played the opening chords of “The Ballad of Carrie Nation” and the crowd just went wild. It’s actually on the live record. That was awesome. I’m just glad someone had the foresight to record it.
GABBY HARPER (Darby’s Friend): I think “Carrie Nation” was one of the first songs Darby ever wrote, but it holds up pretty well today. That one and “Burning Down the Bars” are two of the great straight-edge manifestos, in my opinion. Better than the Minor Threat song, even. And even though I missed those East Coast shows, every time I hear that song now, I picture a blonde Darby singing it.
FIONA KIMBLE-PRATT: We were holed up in Richmond, Virginia, during this freak snowstorm. Kieran was asleep, and Darby and I wore bored out of our skulls, until I got the idea to color her hair. She let me do it. We had a blast. I know it’s a superficial thing, but it seemed to boost everyone’s spirits. That’s what was so crazy about it. We did it as a lark, but it ended up being a really good thing to do.
JULIE LENTO: Yeah, that was odd. A blonde Darby? I’d seen her color her hair before, but never blonde. She still looked like Darby, only…well, blonder. I think she’d been in a funk for a good part of that tour, but lightening her hair was like a super antidepressant or something. I think she really liked it
FIONA KIMBLE-PRATT: Kieran certainly approved of the blonde hair. He and Darby never left their room for a couple of nights, after that. I almost felt jealous. I mean, I was happy they were getting along again, but I missed having someone to hang with, too. It was kind of like high school, when your best friend drops you for a boy.
But it ended up being a good thing for me, too. Being alone more in the evenings gave me time to think. I even called David a couple of times and talked to my kids. I started to miss them horribly, even David. It didn’t help that he sounded so sweet and forgiving on the phone.
David and I had gotten married right out of college, and I’d never really been with anyone else. The wondering and the what-ifs drove me crazy and I ended up bailing on him and my children. But at some point on the Bohemian Babylon Tour, I stopped being able to remember what had come over me to make me fuck things up like I had. I began to want my old life back.
TALYA McCAFFREY: I think Fiona was inspired by Kieran and Darby to try to reconcile with her ex-husband. She honored her commitment to Jillpoke Bohemia and finished the tour, but as soon as it was over, she caught the first plane back to Utah.
DARBY FAGEN: [Going blonde] just felt right, at the time. It was fun. I’d always been a closet Heart fan, and it was kinda cool to go out on stage and pretend I was playing “Crazy on You” with an electric guitar, instead of my Martin. For five minutes at least, I got to be Nancy Wilson.
GABBY HARPER: Heart? No shit? She never told me that. I never liked Heart’s music, but I had such a crush on Nancy Wilson after seeing the “Never” video. You know the one I’m talking about? Yeah, that one. Anyway…with or without blonde hair, Darby’s way hotter than Nancy Wilson ever was.
JULIE LENTO: It was around this time that Darby started playing a new song called “Spring Cleaning” at some of the shows. On the surface, it was kind of a rabble-rousing song, with references to the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, but I really think she was inspired to write it by her new look and how it made her feel. It really seemed to light a fire under her.
After that, someone jokingly referred to it as the “Blonde Sedition” tour, which I liked even better than Bohemian Babylon.
TOMMY LENTO: I never thought of them as a political band, at least not in an overly serious or preachy way. But Darby was definitely anti-establishment, and that came across in a lot of her songs. By this time, she and Kieran had found their core fan base, and most of the people who would have been offended by anything Darby said had already been weeded out. But I remember this one skinhead in Miami who kept heckling her during a show. She‘d said something critical of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, which really got this guy going. He yelled that she should immigrate to Cuba if she loved the place so much. Darby just looked at him and said, “My grandmother’s people were living on this continent when yours were still raping and slaughtering villages in Northern Europe, probably. You tell me which one of us doesn’t belong here, asshole.”
He didn’t have a lot to say after that. Or, if he did, we couldn’t hear him over the cheers.
MARCUS GREELY (Music journalist): Jillpoke Bohemia’s music has always been informed by this idea of an American dichotomy, this conflicting duality of darkness and light. In the Jillpoke Bohemian universe, there’s the America that brought us the good stuff, like bluegrass and punk rock, and iconic figures like Woody Guthrie and Chuck Berry, or whomever. Then there’s the other side of America—Amerkia with a K”—which gave rise to things like slavery, Native American genocide, McCarthyism, trickle-down economics, teabaggers, et cetera, et cetera. Early on especially, Darby’s lyrics tended to be preoccupied with this darker, oppressive side of America, as if it were the dominant force in the development of the country. Kieran’s songs, on the other hand, were more celebratory, largely focusing on the more positive aspects of the culture, the things that make our country special. We’re not talking about American exceptionalism here, but rather an acknowledgment of this invisible republic, this integrated culture of song and dance that is unique to who we, the so-called common folk, are as Americans.
As Jillpoke Bohemia evolved, you saw these seemingly contradictory visions begin to coalesce, resulting in songs such as “Loretta,” Darby’s tribute to her idol, and collaborations like “Pine Tree State of Denial” and “War on the Potato,” which reflect the duo’s shared and often under-appreciated sense of humor.
TOMMY LENTO: “Conflicting duality of darkness and light?” Whatever. I don’t know what the fuck that even means.
Honestly, even the critics who liked Jillpoke Bohemia didn’t always get what they were about, in my view. Sure, they cared about social justice and all that, but it’s not like they were pushing any kind of agenda or ideology with their music. They weren’t the Clash. They were too smart to get pigeonholed like that. And Darby has never been what I’d call a knee-jerk liberal. An equal-opportunity iconoclast is basically what she is. She‘s taken as many shots at Obama the Equivocator as she did at Bush before him.
As for Jillpoke Bohemia’s sense of humor, well, that‘s always been intact, which Greely and other journalists would know know if they’d been there for the long haul.
JULIE LENTO: They‘ve never been humorless. No one who ever heard their rendition of “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night that Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long” would ever think otherwise. But you definitely see more of their playful side when they play live. And they’re surprisingly receptive to audience requests when it comes to things they’ll cover live, more so now than before. Like, one time someone asked them to play that stupid Sheena Easton song “Strut,” which you wouldn’t expect them to even know the words to. But they pulled it off, somehow. Sometimes, the more ridiculous or unlikely the song, the more fun they‘ll have with it.
One person they still won’t cover? Taylor Swift.
TAYLOR SWIFT: I don’t know what Darby’s problem is. I mean, she’s never said anything bad about me publicly, but I get the sense it embarrasses her that I had a hit with one of her songs. I used to think it was jealousy. Now I don’t know. But I have no control over any of that. And I still support Darby and Jillpoke Bohemia. Hating is such a waste of energy.
DARBY FAGEN: I don’t hate Taylor Swift. I think it’s great that she writes her own songs and doesn’t like to drink—those are admirable things. Maybe her music isn’t my cup of tea, but so what? It would be kind of ungrateful of me to tear her down when the royalties for “Romeo Conquest” helped pay for our house. It’s not one of our better songs, but why take away from other people’s enjoyment of it? At the same time, I’m not going to bow and scrape to Taylor or anyone else. She can do her thing, and we’ll do ours.
TOMMY LENTO: Kieran’s not an elitist when it comes to music, and I think it was good for Darby to be around someone like that. It taught her some humility, made her a little more tolerant. She still takes music seriously, but she doesn’t take herself so seriously.
JAZZIE JONES: Yeah, when I first met Darby, she was kind of a music snob. If she had certain favorite guilty-pleasure type songs, she wouldn’t admit to it. One time, when she thought she was alone, I swear I heard her humming a Norah Jones tune. Now to me, that’s nothing to be embarrassed about, but when I confronted her, she denied it. No way Darby Fagen was going to ‘fess up to liking that “elevator music.”
She ain’t like that so much now. Like, one of these days, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear her singing a Colbie Caillat song to her kid.
DARBY FAGEN: Right. If you ever hear me singing a Colbie Caillat song to my kid, you should probably have me screened for postpartum psychosis.
No offense, Colbie.
TOMMY LENTO: They’ve done their share of covers, but they’ve never been a cover band. Even in the early days, they were writing and playing their own stuff. For me, it’s the original material that‘s always stood out.
MARCUS GREELY: A lot of songwriters, as they read more and become a little more literate and sophisticated, tend to couch their songs in an increasingly obtuse, idiosyncratic language that even they might not understand. That’s not Kieran, and that’s certainly not Darby. They write and sing the way they talk. Their lyrics are smart, but they’re not so clever that the average listener can’t get what they’re trying to put across. They’re not going to sing over your head to make you think they’re these brilliant avant-garde songsmiths writing in their own cryptic language. Their voices are very colloquial, and they both write songs in a very direct, linear way that might seem old-fashioned to some but to others is sorely lacking in a lot of so-called alternative music.
KIERAN KIMBLE: The songwriters I’ve always admired most tend to be storytellers. Tom T. Hall is a perfect example. I mean, as brilliant as Dylan is, Tom T. has this conversational, down-home style of songwriting that to me is a lot more satisfying than trying to figure out what “Desolation Row” is really about. That’s the tradition I want to write in, and I think it’s what I do best. I’ll leave the poetry to the poets.
DARBY FAGEN: As much as I’m into Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell‘s early stuff, I can’t write like that. I’m not from that confessional, introspective school of songwriting. My coming of age was angry and defiant, and I was drawn to music with that same attitude. “You gotta have music what you feel like, or else you go barmy,” as Joe Strummer said. Punk rock spoke to me when not much else did.
My problem has been that I can only sustain that anger and defiance internally for so long before it turns into depression. And if I’m depressed, I’m not going to write a song about being depressed. The only way I can write myself out of a funk is to get out of my own head and write a song that’s almost self-effacing, like “The Ballad of Carrie Nation.” I think just the act of forcing myself to imagine what it must have been like to be involved in the temperance movement and trying to tie that to modern straight-edge punk rock was probably cathartic in a way that shoving my head up my ass would not not have been.
TOMMY LENTO: I love punk rock too, but it’s really a young person’s music, Jello Biafra notwithstanding. I think Darby probably came to that same realization at some point. Fortunately, she had Kieran and his country music, and country, when it’s done well, is very much adult music. And I think that being exposed to that really helped Darby mature as a songwriter.
Is Jillpoke Bohemia Country?
TOMMY LENTO: I never thought of Jillpoke Bohemia as a country band, and they don’t call themselves that, but they’re probably closer to country than most of the shit you hear on the radio now. I really think if Kieran hadn’t met Darby, he would have ended up playing in a straight-up bluegrass or hillbilly band. He turned Darby on to that stuff, but she was still too punk to ever be any kind of country purist. And that’s still true. They both brought their own thing to Jillpoke Bohemia and learned from each other, and I think that’s what makes the music so cool.
KIERAN KIMBLE: I like to joke that I’m the Gram Parsons to Darby’s Emmylou Harris, except that we‘re too late to be any kind of “country-rock” pioneers. We certainly aren’t the first genre-straddling musical act, and we won’t be the last. We just do what we do and try to do it well.
DARBY FAGEN: Growing up, I thought country music was Garth Brooks and Shania Twain, neither one of whom were doing anything musically that interested me. Kieran was a lot more versed in the history and diversity of country and bluegrass, and he showed me there was real common ground between that stuff and the punk rock and reggae that I was into. I mean, I had been aware of people like Loretta Lynn in a peripheral kind of way, but the first time Kieran played “Fist City” for me, my gut reaction was, “This is hardcore.” I still think Loretta is way more punk than Courtney Love or Brody Dalle ever were. Kieran helped me hear country music in a way I hadn’t before. In that sense, I guess he was my Gram Parsons. Without the
drugs and tragedy.
JULIE LENTO: I still don’t know what to call their music. It’s always been its own thing. Country? Well, country’s part of it. But there’s a lot of other stuff in there, too.
I knew from talking to Kieran that he had grown up loving the Grand Ole Opry and fantasizing that he would play there one day. Well, you always knew Jillpoke Bohemia was never going to play the Grand Ole Opry, which touts itself as being some kind of bastion of country music purity or whatever. If the Byrds playing the Grand Ole Opry back in the Sixties went over like a fart in church, you can imagine what their reaction to Darby and her tattoos would have been. But I don’t think Kieran ever stopped dreaming.
For Kieran’s thirtieth birthday, Darby took him to Nashville, Tennessee, to see Emmylou Harris perform at the Ryman Auditorium. Not surprisingly, Music City, USA, did not exactly lay out the red carpet for the daring duo and their brand of insurgent country. Despite Taylor Swift’s endorsement and generally positive album and concert reviews, Jillpoke Bohemia had never been warmly received by Nashville’s country music establishment, which continued to view the band’s unique hybrid sound as little more than a gimmick.
DARBY FAGEN: If it was a gimmick, it wasn’t a very original one. Honestly, the music business in Nashville is like the music business everywhere else. If they don’t understand something or can’t figure out how to market it, they trash it. The bullshit they built around us was that we were a couple of modern-day carpetbaggers exploiting the rich musical heritage of Appalachia in order to make a buck, which in and of itself was ridiculous. Like we were ever a serious threat to their own shit-making music machine. I mean, who looks more like Alan Lomax here, Jillpoke Bohemia or the hucksters on Music Row? At least Lomax had enough taste to steal the good stuff.
KIERAN KIMBLE: We got press in Nashville, but not much of the good kind. I wasn’t naive enough to think we’d be embraced by the city, but I didn’t expect outright hostility either. It threw me. One wag even called us “Shitpoke Bohemia,” which a lot of our other detractors seemed to love. Looking back, I think our only sin was that we wouldn’t play the game. We just wanted to be ourselves and succeed on our own terms. Apparently that’s just not allowed in Music City.
DARBY FAGEN: I think the shit-smearing campaign bothered Kieran more than it did me, just because he had so much love and reverence for the idea of Nashville as this country and bluegrass mecca. It hurt him to think people might see him as someone who was plundering
the legacies of Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs, people he idolized. It wasn’t true, but the perception alone was enough to depress him. I didn’t give a shit what anyone said about me, but it pissed me off that assholes like Charlie Daniels and Trace Adkins were dissing Kieran. I half-wished they would come after us the way they went after the Dixie Chicks, just because I would have loved to have had an excuse to burn the whole fucking town to the ground.
Not literally, of course.
KIERAN KIMBLE: Our second night in Nashville, we were out for a walk and saw Ralph Emery coming out of an office building on Music Row. Darby had been on the prod all day, really spoiling for a fight, and I think Ralph was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. What happened next was really inspired by the Byrds and their own beef with Ralph Emery, back in 1968.
TOMMY LENTO: Yeah, they serenaded poor ol’ Ralph right there on the street. Man, can you imagine? Dude’s in his eighties and they’re signing an a capella version of “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Main” to him in front of God and everyone. Unbelievable. I’d have paid to see it.
KIERAN KIMBLE: Yes, we took it all out on Ralph, I’m afraid. To us, at that moment, he just personified the kind of institutionalized small-mindedness we felt we were up against in Nashville. And you know what? It was fun. I don’t think Ralph was amused, but Darby and I certainly enjoyed it. No matter what they say about us now, they can’t take that away.
FIONA KIMBLE-PRATT: Right after the Ralph Emery thing, Kieran calls me from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Turns out the Emmylou Harris show was only part of his birthday present. Next stop? Dollywood! Now, I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did, I’m pretty sure seeing Dollywood wouldn’t be on it, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t on Darby’s either. But she knew Kieran would love it, so she‘d booked a stay. “Guess where I’m calling from?” Kieran says to me. “Where?” I say. “A honeymoon cabin at Dollywood,” he says. “You’re shitting me,” I say. “No, Sis, I’m a married man,” he says.
Can you believe that? The brats didn’t even invite me!
DARBY FAGEN: The wedding part was kind of spontaneous. It just felt like the right time and place, after what we’d been through. I have no regrets. Most of the time.
KIERAN KIMBLE: It was just like that Drive-By Truckers song, “18 Wheels of Love”…except we didn’t get married by a Porter Wagoner lookalike. Also, I’m not a truck driver or a Vietnam vet. And Darby’s not a truck log auditor or…Well, I guess it’s not much like the song after all.
JAZZIE JONES: Dollywood? Yeah, well, whatever. I’m a little bummed that I didn’t get to be bridesmaid, but that’s okay. I’m just relieved they finally got hitched. It was about damn time, you know?
DARBY FAGEN: I guess we’re stuck with each other now. We’re kind of past the point of no return, you know? As Loretta said, “We’ve come a long way, baby.”
KIERAN KIMBLE: It’s always been Darby. From the moment I saw her banging on her guitar outside the Memorial Union at the University of Maine, I knew there was no going back for me. My life will never be what I thought it was going to be before I met Darby. And I’m okay with that. More than okay.
DARBY FAGEN: Really? He said that?
He’s such a girl.
Almost nine months to the day following their Dollywood wedding, Darby and Kieran welcomed the arrival of a healthy baby daughter, Madeline Margaret Kimble. Her father believes Maddie was most likely conceived at Dollywood, either in a honeymoon cabin…or on the teacher’s desk in the Calico Falls one-room schoolhouse. “Please don’t tell Dolly about the schoolhouse,” he says.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. All the characters portrayed here are either product’s of the creator’s imagination or are used fictionally.