Karen the LairMistress (Karen I. Olsen)

Karen the LairMistress (Karen I. Olsen)

 Seattle, Washington, USA

Original songwriting strongly influenced by traditional Irish/Celtic music (including song lyrics in Irish Gaelic!), as well as topical/political songwriting and women's music of the 1970's and 80's. Much world music influence as well, including Sufi traditions, Scandinavian and Saami folk music.


A Maryland native, Karen the LairMistress has been living full-time in Seattle, Washington since 1991. She has had a passion for traditional and contemporary folk music from Ireland, Britain and the U.S. since grade school, and began playing in venues such as churches, nursing homes and ethnic festivals in early high school. Though mainly self-taught on acoustic guitar, she also has a background in classical violin, piano and East Indian tabla drumming. She learned to sing from her mother, a trained choral alto soloist, and from her own experience in church and community choirs.

Karen began writing her own songs in high school and college, but her songwriting truly took off in the late 1980's after graduating from college, influenced by a mixture of 80's topical/political folk, feminist/women's music, and Celtic folk and folk-rock bands. She especially loves to write songs on topics and issues that have seldom been addressed before; thus her lyrics (most notably the children's rights themes of the "Power Objects Soundtrack" collection) are often controversial and sometimes downright inflammatory. She says, "You know you're doing your job when a person or two walks out on your performance." However, her primary purpose is to inform and perhaps even enlighten, not to offend gratuitously. Even so, she was often heard deliberately singing French and French-Canadian songs in public at the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003, when anti-French/anti-Canadian sentiment was at its most virulent.

Karen has been busking on the Seattle streets and bus tunnels for over four years; she also performs at festivals, coffeehouses, open mics, art gallery openings and poetry readings. Live performances most commonly include vocals with guitar, guitar instrumentals (sometimes singing harmony over or under guitar melodies), singing over fiddle drones (in traditional English or Appalachian style), improvised joik/mouth music vocals (separately or as part of original or cover songs), and singing with bodhran (which can double as a Middle Eastern-style frame drum). All offers of gigs at both mainstream and alternative venues will be welcomed and considered!

Incidentally, the word "LairMistress" is what Karen calls her online/website persona. It's her personalized version of the term "Webmaster", as she has built and edits her website herself. "LairMistress", in Karen's case, does NOT mean "Dominatrix." She gets asked about that on occasion...

See Karen's Musician's Resume here: http://www.angelfire.com/folk/karivox/musicmarket/Musician_Vita.html .


Amanda Dances On

Written By: Words ?1989 by Karen I. Olsen. Music: Kerstlied, trad. Belgian

A flash of light, and she skirts the ground behind me,
Beyond their reach, in a blaze of joy to blind me.
Bright as the sky and spirited on,
To celebrate the day, Amanda dances on.
To celebrate the day, Amanda dances on.

They call her back, and she leads them chasing after,
To pin her down, and cut off her virgin laughter.
To live their life, they let her be born--
But no, she stays ahead and free and dancing on;
Amanda stays ahead and free and dancing on.

A girl of five at a festival is leading.
Forget her place--here there is no more retreating.
Her soul's in flight, her effort is won--
Their power is gone and lost, Amanda dances on.
Their power is gone and lost, Amanda dances on.

She's on a stage, and the clogging girls surround her.
She won't be stopped, with the sphere of light around her.
The spark of life she passes along,
And calls, Come on and fly, Amanda dances on.
And calls, Come on and fly, Amanda dances on.

In all of life, few will dare to lead such dances.
We're frozen so, that we seldom take our chances.
Not free to speak, our spirit is gone;
We're taught to frown upon the soul who dances on.
We're taught to frown upon the soul who dances on.

But we can change, with such a child before us.
She breaks our ice, and her passion leads the chorus.
Join hand to hand and circle around;
The power belongs to us, Amanda dances on.
The power belongs to us, Amanda dances on.

There's room for more--come and watch the circle growing,
Protecting all who will join the dance's flowing.
Where are they now who made us be wrong?
Their power is gone and lost, Amanda dances on.
Their power is gone and lost, Amanda dances on.

Sebastian (for Oscar Wilde)

Written By: Karen I. Olsen

"Sebastian Melmoth" was the alias identity that Oscar Wilde assumed in Europe (after his release from Reading Gaol in England) during the last three years of his life, 1897-1900. "Aengus Óg" is the name of the Celtic god of love, youth and beauty; he was said to be the son of the Daghda, god of abundance and fertility. Aengus Óg is also said, in Celtic myth, to be the patron deity of lovers whose relationship is frowned upon by their families.

Oh Sebastian, can you see my world today?
The times are getting mean; I need to hear what you might say.
The love that was forbidden you flies freer in my time;
And you are less a mystery, no more a shadowed pantomime.

Come walk the University, and see my neighborhood.
There’s some who say that godlessness
Has driven out the good.
But you can feel, Sebastian, the life that pulses here;
And we both know the harm the pious do when gripped in fear.

Chorus: Come walk with me,
Out of darkness into dawn we see;
We’ll go once more a-walking
In the heart of a great company.

Oh my Aengus Óg, what harm they did to you:
A thousand sermons cursed your name;
All your books they soon withdrew.
In a cell they left you weeping at the same hour every day,
And then, abroad, a childless father quickly pined away.

Each thing you loved, your every thought
Was called evil and decayed;
You died as something sinister,
And they hoped your name would fade.
Now you and they are living on, and I’m caught in their fire;
They want regimes imposed on me, and of spite they never tire.

Oh Sebastian, can you see my world today?
Each thing I love is under siege:
Ah, but I am here to stay.
How I wish I had a word from you to keep my feet upright;
What brings me joy are branded sins,
And it weighs on me tonight.
(Repeat chorus)

4 Days a Year

Written By: Karen I. Olsen

Written for the 25th Anniversary of the Northwest Folklife Festival in May 1996.

This is my life as I'd like to make it run,
To sing all through the rainy nights,
Play fiddles in the sun.
Some people say this falls outside the real world as designed,
But reality grows well beyond the things they have in mind.

Chorus: And the time to put my first love first
Will once again appear--
For this too is reality, these four days a year;
I'll make this very clear,
That this too is reality, these four days a year.

Oh, what could be more real than to jam on strings and drums,
To find a common language sung through hurdy-gurdies' hums?
I have sung and sat with tablas
For old trophies and new shirts,
Munched fajitas near the Fountain, watching cloggers' flying skirts.

From quiet desperation this has been my soul's retreat;
We dance in time to Cajun bands,
And shop for brooms of wheat.
And these crowds that brave those other crowds
Feel just like me, perhaps,
For this dream brought to reality
With buttons on our caps.

To put the music first in life,
Most call pure fantasy:
But it's come to life this time each year
For a quarter-century.
So welcome to the real world,
Is it not a wondrous site--
And our nine-to-five illusions
Just went out the door tonight.

And the time to put our first love first
Will once again appear--
For this too is reality, these four days a year;
Let's make this very clear:
That the time to put our first love first
Will once again appear--
For this too is reality, these four days a year,
I'll make this very clear,
That this too is reality, these four days a year.


• 3-Song Demo (recorded 1997): includes the songs "Amanda Dances On", "Sister of the Northland", and "Ours from the Beginning."
• 4-Song Demo (recorded 2004): includes the songs "Amanda Dances On", "Penelope", "Ours from the Beginning", and "Mo Thruantacht Mo Chumha" (lyrics in Irish).

More MP3s can be found on the LairMistress's Band Listing at the Stranger's website: http://classifieds.thestranger.com/seattle/ViewAd?oid=oid%3A91657 .

More mp3's are now available at the LairMistress's Myspace Profile: http://www.myspace.com/karenthelairmistress .

Set List

Karen's indoor sets are typically anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes (one or two sets with a 15-or-so break in between); but she has been known to do outdoor busking sets that are up to an hour and a quarter without a break.

Karen's original songs predominate in indoor sets, but folk, world and Celtic covers in various languages are usually included, in both indoor and outdoor sets. Lyrics may sometimes be in languages other than English, including Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, French, and even one or two in Macedonian or Persian. Learning songs in unusual languages is one of Karen's hobbies.

Below is Karen's 2-hour set list from a recent (no-cover) coffeehouse solo gig; authors of cover songs are credited in parentheses. A selection of Karen's original lyrics can be found on her website at http://www.angelfire.com/folk/karivox/musicmarket/songlist.html .


Double Jig/Sea Voyage Medley (guitar instrumental)

Amanda Dances On (original, w/guitar)

Four Days a Year