Fiddling Through

Laurie Lewis started out as a classical violinist, but by age 14 she had a guitar and a banjo. “I was smitten with bluegrass and folk music,” she says.

Throughout her 30-plus-year career, the fiddler, guitarist, bass player and singer-songwriter Laurie Lewis has been heralded as a groundbreaker – across genres, geography and the myth that women just can’t play or sing bluegrass.

But to hear her tell it, that’s not the whole story.

“I never set out to be a groundbreaker or to challenge any stereotypes at all,” Lewis says. “Those things may have been affected by my career, but none of those were why I became a musician. I got into the business for only one reason: because I absolutely love to play music. Period.”

Lewis grew up in a musical house – her father was a classical flutist who held a seat with the Dallas Symphony. “My dad would have other wind players over to the house frequently,” Lewis recalls. “They would play these elegant woodwind quintets in the living room, and I marveled at the way the different voices of the instruments interacted, as the melodies wove their way through the music. That was why I became fascinated with how the structure of music was made.”

This translated into a compelling interest in songwriting. She recently found an old high school journal in which she had written, “I so want to write a song.”

“It was actually driven by jealousy, if you can believe that,” Lewis says of her desire to write songs. “I knew a lot of musicians and singers who were writing songs… I wanted something that was all mine, just like they had.”

In 1986, Lewis decided to sell her violin shop in Flagstaff and move back to her hometown of Berkeley, California, resolved to be a full-time musician. The move was a fruitful one, as Lewis’ career blossomed in the 1990s. She twice won the California Women’s Fiddling Championship, was twice named Female Vocalist of the Year (in 1992 and 1994) in the International Bluegrass Music Awards (IBMA), and won IBMA’s Song of the Year in 1994 for her tender ballad, “Who Will Watch The Home Place.”

Lewis makes a pitstop on the Monterey Peninsula this week, appearing with her longtime band The Right Hands, a name she decided upon back in 2000. “It has nothing to do with them all being right-handed,” Lewis says. “They are the right hired hands to do the job.”

LAURIE LEWIS AND THE RIGHT HANDS 7pm Thursday, March 23. Monterey United Methodist Church, 1 Soledad Drive, Monterey. $35. 375-8285,

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