Legend is not always loud. Particularly in the beneath-the-radar substreams of American folk music and bluegrass, it is bestowed more by whispered word-of-mouth, over years and decades, than by the hurried hype and ballyhoo of the pop mainstream. You can't measure Laurie Lewis's 30-year career with the usual commercial yardsticks. She has won a Grammy ("True Life Blues: The Songs of Bill Monroe," 1997), and twice been named Female Vocalist of the Year by the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association).
If you listen down the backroads of acoustic Americana, however, you'll soon realize this soft-spoken, sweet-singing California fiddler, singer and songwriter is something very special. "Judging by the respect she has among fans and peers in the industry," says IBMA executive director Dan Hays, "Laurie is one of the pre-eminent bluegrass and Americana artists of our time. She spreads her talent over several genres - bluegrass, folk, country - and with the recognition she has within all those fields, I would certainly say she's one of the top five female artists of the last 30 years. And she continues to make great music." This measure of respect is all the more remarkable given what a groundbreaking revolutionary Lewis has been, the first bona fide bluegrass star who was a woman born outside the music's native southland. It is hard to tell whether her being a woman or a Californian impacted the music more, but what is clear is that she is a pivotal figure in transforming the music from a regional genre into a truly international musical language. "She's opened a lot of doors for our music," says Hays. "There were certainly female artists in bluegrass before her, but to do what she's done with her own unique style, as opposed to mimicking her male counterparts, she's been a real pioneer in that regard. It goes beyond her just being a woman, though she's set a wonderful example for female artists. Her whole approach to music has had a positive influence throughout the country."