The Bay Area fiddle player and singer/songwriter was presented with the award at the 2011 FAR-West Conference, which took place during the four days, October 20-23, in Eugene, Oregon. The presentation was made during the noon luncheon at the Hilton Eugene on Saturday, October 22.
Initially a folk music fan, Ms. Lewis became interested in bluegrass in the early 1960s after hearing the Dillards. Soon afterwards she learned to play the bass and became a member of the Phantoms of the Opry, whose personnel also included Pat Enright. In 1972 she recorded an eponymous LP with the all-female super-group Blue Rose. By this time she was playing fiddle.
In the mid-1970s she co-founded The Good Old Persons, an all-female band originally, then moved on to start the Grant Street String Band.
Since then Ms. Lewis has led her own bands, with seemingly ever-changing configurations (it happens in the west as well as the east) and name changes, such as Laurie Lewis and her Bluegrass Pals and Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands.
She has concurrently since 1986 shared an exciting musical partnership with mandolin player Tom Rozum, recording three albums, most notably The Oak and the Laurel and Guest House. In 1994 the duo were were seriously injured in an automobile accident while traveling to a performance in Arizona.
Her music traverses folk, country as well as bluegrass, mixing a progressive west coast mentality with deep reverence for traditional roots. She is a two-time winner of the California’s Women’s Fiddling championships and she has been elected the IBMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year on two occasions.
Laurie Lewis is a very talented songwriter with her songs sprinkled around her many albums; her song Love Chooses You was a hit for Kathy Mattea.
A dedicated and enthusiastic teacher, sharing her skills at the Augusta Heritage Workshops in Elkins, West Virginia; at Centrum Foundation’s Voiceworks and the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Washington; at the Telluride, the Wintergrass and Rocky Grass academies; at the Bluegrass At The Beach in Nehalem Bay, Oregon; at the Camp HeHoHA in Alberta; and at the British Columbia Bluegrass Camp in Canada.
Here’s video of a very emotional Laurie Lewis accepting her award…..
If you have trouble hearing the audio, here is the text of Lewis’ speech:
“Thank you. I hate to follow John McCutcheon, who is such a masterful speaker, and Phil Williams, who is never at a loss for words. I advise you to just close your eyes and listen because there isn’t going to be anything exciting happening up here. Just me reading my speech.
I was originally drawn to music because I was so shy and carried so much fear inside. Music saved my life by giving me an outlet for self-expression. I’m not good at speechifying, so I wrote it out. I might deliver it better and be more comfortable if I were to sing it, but it would probably end up sounding something like John Hartford’s “Tater Tate and Alan Munde.” So I will just face my fear and read it.
Although I have made music in one way or another since I can remember, I started making a career in music very late in life—at age 35. There were people who helped me make that leap, and to them I will be forever thankful: my grandmother who willed me a few thousand dollars, with which I recorded my first album—an LP back then—and to Cash Edwards, who got tired of suggesting to me places I should play and decided to become a booking agent so that she could follow through on those ideas.
I am grateful to have had the up-close and personal examples of artists in my life—people who followed their own muses regardless of whether it might or might not be popular— among them Ray Park, Vern Williams, Kate Wolf, Utah Phillips, Kenny Baker, Ron Hughey, Bob Mielke, Jack Minger, Barbara Dane, Hazel Dickens, Alice Gerrard, and Charles Sawtelle. Most of these folks have passed on, but from them and through them I learned the value of being true to my own muse. I didn’t set out to make a splash, but I have been very lucky in that I have connected with enough like-minded people that I can make a living doing what I love. For this, I feel incredibly lucky. I am probably among 1/100th of 1% of the people in the world who can say that.
As artists, we have a responsibility to speak for those who can’t find the words—humans and non-humans alike—and I think we accomplish this best when we speak from our deepest centers. This is what I try to do, and I am thankful for the gift that every once in a while I seem to manage that connection, flawed as it may be, for some few moments.
I am a band musician, and it has taken a village to forge these connections. I accept this honor as much for the incredible musicians I have had the great good fortune to share music with as for myself. Chief among them are Tom Rozum, Kathy Kallick, Chad Manning, Patrick Sauber, Todd Phillips, Todd Sickafoose, Craig Smith, Scott Huffman, Scott Nygaard, Cary Black, Peter McLaughlin, Sally Van Meter, Barbara Mendelsohn, Barbara Higbie, Paul Shelasky, Mary Gibbons, Andrew Conklin, Nina Gerber, and many, many more.
We thank you!”
The Best of the West awards were created in 2005 to honour musicians and others within the FAR-West folk community whose talents and efforts on behalf of the community over a period of time have established them as true leaders in our communities.
Other winners include Rosalie Sorrels, the winner in 2007; The Kingston Trio (2008) and John McEuen, founder member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, (2010).