Claire Lynch Band to play at Clark Center

Bluegrass bandleader strives for authenticity

slinn@thetribunenews.comJanuary 23, 2013 

Claire Lynch isn’t your typical Nashville songbird.

Rather than the remote mountains of North Carolina, the bluegrass singer-songwriter was raised about 90 miles north of New York City in a household where big band standards, pop songs and show tunes received more play than country music.

She didn’t start singing bluegrass until age 19. And she prefers Ricky Skaggs to Bill Monroe.

“In order to be accepted as one of the bluegrass community, I had to prove I knew what I was doing,” said Lynch, whose band performs Saturday at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande.

Lynch, who performed at the Live Oak Music Festival in 1999 and 2007, has pursued a personal quest for authenticity since the 1970s.

“If you sing your own music and you write your own life experiences, it comes across as genuine,” said Lynch, who follows the advice of Monroe, considered the father of bluegrass, to “play it like it was writ.” “I really don’t care to record a song unless it’s touching my heart.”

Lynch was 12 when her family moved from Kings-ton, N.Y., to Huntsville, Ala., just a couple hours’ drive south of Nashville. 

Despite the culture shock, “I found Alabama people to be kind and generous and loving,” she said, particularly when it came to music.

 “At the tail end of the folk movement, bluegrass was beginning to be popular on college campuses as a way to socialize,” Lynch said. “I kind of jumped in with both feet.”

She and her soon-to- be-husband, mandolin and fiddle player Larry Lynch, formed the band Hickory Wind, which later became the Front Porch String Band. At the time, few bluegrass bands featured female members, let alone frontwomen such as Hazel Dickens and Ginger Boatwright of Red, White & Blue (Grass).

“A lot of men wouldn’t let (women) into a picking session because they were girls,” Claire Lynch explained. “I didn’t realize it was good old boys’ music until later on.”

The Front Porch Swing Band retired from the road in 1981 after their first nationwide release, giving Lynch time to pursue twin careers as a songwriter and session vocalist while raising a family. (Her pristine voice often evokes comparisons to Emmylou Harris.) The revitalized group returned a decade later with the 1991 album “Lines and Traces.”

The Front Porch String Band earned its first Grammy Award nomination for the 1995 album “Moonlight,” followed in 1997 by the Grammy-nominated “Silver and Gold.” The same year, Lynch was named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year. (She would reprise that honor in 2010 as the leader of the Claire Lynch Band.)

Despite the band’s success, “I was burning to see my name in lights,” Lynch said.

The singer-songwriter formed her own band in 2005. Shortly afterward, she and her husband divorced and Lynch moved north to Nashville.

Fifteen years after the release of her solo debut, the country-pop album “Breakin’ It,” Lynch released her second solo album, the aptly named “A New Day.” Her folk- flavored follow-up album, “Whatcha Gonna Do,” came out in 2009.

The Claire Lynch Band’s upcoming album, tentatively titled “Dear Sister,” takes its name from a song Lynch penned with country-bluegrass songwriter Louisa Branscomb. It’s based on letters sent to Branscomb’s great-great-aunt by her brothers during the Civil War.

“The sensation of this album is, ‘This particular band is really clicking,’ ” Lynch said of “Dear Sister,” due out in March on Compass Records.

The Claire Lynch Band’s current lineup includes Brian McDowell (mandolin, fiddle and vocals), Matt Schatz (bass, clawhammer banjo and percussive dance) and Matt Wingate (guitar, mandolin and vocals).

According to Lynch, life as a bandleader has proved “charming and … daunting at the same time.”

“After a lot of years where I really wasn’t allowed to have a final say on musical matters … it’s very freeing,” she said. “I’m surrounded by a group of guys who are very respectful of my position. ”


Claire Lynch Band
8 p.m. Saturday
Clark Center for the Performing Arts, 487 Fair Oaks Ave., Arroyo Grande
$28 to $38
489-9444 or

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