Now she’ll return to her former hometown, this time with her highly acclaimed Claire Lynch Band, for a concert that will begin at 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30 at the Skytop Steakhouse on Forest Hill Drive (you must know the one, with the huge neon sign that rarely has lit its full complement of letters). Opening the show is Woodstock’s Saturday Night Bluegrass Band.
Lynch says she was last in Kingston in the early 1990s. “I remember driving by my old house and thinking how small it was,” she says, in a telephone interview from her current home in Nashville. “I was there from when I was 4 until I was 12. I went through grade school at Chambers Elementary and transferred to George Washington School for fifth and sixth grade. “I remember walking to Forsyth Park … on Saturdays we would walk downtown (uptown, really) to Woolworth’s. My mother took us into Fanny Farmer … used to go to New Paltz, Poughkeepsie, shopping to Luckey Platt’s … ”
But she never became acquainted with bluegrass music until her family moved to Alabama. “(My father) got transferred to Alabama, the space program was booming in Huntsville … IBM developed the instrument ring for the Saturn V rocket, below the cone, in the computer ring … so Huntsville became an international hotbed. It wasn’t like moving to Montgomery from New York, it was less severe a change, there were Yankees, natives there were a little more tolerant of people with strange accents.
“I never heard bluegrass, never knew it existed really. When I moved to Alabama, there were nationally syndicated cable TV shows, like Porter Wagoner, Hee Haw … so I was exposed to it that way. Even through high school, I was into pop and rock. But then when I was 18, there was a special program at UAHuntsville, and there it was, live bluegrass … it was the McClain Family Band, and Hickory Wind, which was my future band, which became the Front Porch String Band … I knew a couple of guys in that band from high school.”
The Front Porch String Band recorded until 1981, then took a decade long break, during which time Lynch raised a family, wrote songs and sang as a session vocalist with Dolly Parton and Patti Loveless. The Front Porchers resumed in 1991, and Claire followed with her solo albums Friends for a Lifetime (1993), the Grammy-nominated Moonlighter in 1995 and 1997’s Silver and Gold, another Grammy nominee. In the fall of 2004, she formed the Claire Lynch Band and began extensive touring, later signing her second three-album deal with Rounder Records, which produced New Day (2006) and the anthology collection Crowd Favorites (2007), which earned top ten positions on the National Bluegrass survey. Her follow-up CD, Whatcha Gonna Do (2009), took the No. 1 spot on the January 2010 BMP National Bluegrass CD survey.
“Every band is a small cottage industry,” she says. “I work with Marc Schatz, and he’ll put the bass down and play banjo … Jason Thomas, fiddler and mandolin and sings harmony with me … and I’ve got a young gun, Matt Wingate, he’s from Alabama, a fabulous guitar player, mandolin and guitar and some bouzouki. He’s a great singer, too.”
Included in Whatcha Gonna Do is a Jesse Winchester song, “That’s What Makes You Strong,” on which Winchester sings a duet with Lynch. “I’m such a Jesse fan and that song just kills me. I sang on his record, too, so we did a little barter thing.”
The talk returns to the old hometown area.
“I remember seeing the Skytop restaurant, with the neon lights at the top of the hill … that’s how I learned to spell restaurant. I remember it being broken down because the neon lights weren’t always on. I owe my good spelling skill to the Skytop.
“We used to go sledding at Dietz Stadium … take our saucers. It was too steep for sleds. They never have enough snow in Alabama.”
She has some old friends, and she hopes they can come to the show. “I reconnected with a gal named Lisa Suppies, we were in fifth and sixth grade together. Lisa and I and a few other girlfriends used to play after school … Chris Rassmussen, I’ve been trying to find her and another named Susie Carter … those are maiden names … they might remember me as Claire Lutke … ”
She moved to Nashville about three years ago, and reflects on touring. “It’s my living. Not as much in the winter, of course. We do festivals and park shows and performance halls and clubs.” And the IBMA honor? “It feels great. I won it in 1997 so I feel very appreciated this year.”
Opening the show, which is co-sponsored by the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association (www.hvbluegrass.org) will be Woodstock’s Saturday Night Bluegrass Band.
All tickets are $20 for the 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30 show at the Skytop Steakhouse. Dinner and drinks table service, separate from the show admission, begins at 5 p.m. Reservations are strongly suggested, by calling (845) 340-4277. The Skytop is at 237 Forest Hills Drive. For more info about Claire, see www.ClaireLynch.com.