Although Claire Lynch won the award 13 years ago, snaring Female Vocalist of the Year honors at this year's International Bluegrass Music Association convention brought with it a special sense of pride and accomplishment. It signaled that her audience had grown musically with her.
"When I won back in 1997, I was considered a bluegrass artist," Lynch said by phone this week from her home in Nashville. "We don't do strictly bluegrass anymore."
Indeed, Lynch's music has evolved over the past 30 or so years to the point where she no longer feels she has to fit within the confines of a genre.
"Your audiences will give you a lot of leeway if what you're giving them is honest and from your heart," she said. "I'm happy that my fans have accepted whatever I do."
Blessed with a silk-smooth voice, Lynch, who will perform next weekend at the Sertoma Youth Ranch's Thanksgiving Bluegrass Festival, moves effortlessly among genres. Although bluegrass is certainly well represented, she and her backing trio of Jason Thomas, Matt Wingate and Mark Schatz delve into everything from country and swing to contemporary folk and pop music.
Lynch's track record for making stellar music goes back a long way. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she fronted the progressive bluegrass group the Front Porch String Band. Although traditional bluegrass was the band's launching point, Lynch and her bandmates managed to weave in more modern musical elements as well.
"It was a fun band to play and learn in," Lynch recalls.
But there were limits to the Front Porch String Band's scope. After years of endless touring, Lynch had had enough. When the band folded in 1981, she was ready to explore other options, including her career as a songwriter.
Two years later, she recorded Breakin' It, a country album that included several original songs. But with two young children at home, she chose to tour on a limited basis. In 1991, a re-formed Front Porch String Band roared back onto the scene with the album Lines and Traces.
Lynch's 1993 solo effort, Friends for a Lifetime, served as the perfect calling card to a new audience that was just discovering her. Two years later, she released Moonlighter, followed shortly by Silver & Gold. Both albums earned the singer Grammy nominations.
Lynch says her progression as a songwriter is a result of becoming more comfortable putting her personal life into lyrics.
"It's still hard for me to do sometimes," she said, "but I think people have a wonderful appreciation for hearing someone sing a song that they're personally connected to."
These days, Lynch is pretty much on the road constantly from spring through late fall. With her band members spread out in other states, it can be a hectic life for Lynch, who often drives 12 to 14 hours at a time.
"It's a logistical nightmare sometimes," she said, "but somehow we manage to do it, and still make it fun for us."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.