The final stop on a prairie tour by award-winning American Bluegrass pioneer Claire Lynch was the Dekker Centre for the Performing Arts in North Battleford. Sunday evening, Lynch and her band had the audience calling for more before they departed for their next gig in Iowa.
Lynch had never been to Saskatchewan before this tour, but with her gentle southern accent, she did an admirable job on the pronunciation, winning the audience's approval for a feat even some Canadians have trouble with.
She also – jokingly but correctly – referred to her audience as Saskatchewanians, to the applause of a nearly full house.
"Really? I was just joking!" she said.
Lynch said she loves Saskatchewan, telling the Regional Optimistit actually reminds her of home. (She was born in New York but lives in Nashville.)
The friendliness of the people is wonderful, she said, adding the chain hotels in Canada are much nicer than their counterparts in the United States.
Her mother, she said, was from Syracuse, N.Y., and was familiar with things Canadian, which she described to her daughter as "superior."
Lynch may have won over hundreds of Saskatchewanians with her hearty approval of Saskatchewan, but she and her band also garnered a great many new fans by way of their performance, musically flawless and entertaining.
In addition to Lynch's vocals, described as angelic by the likes of Emmylou Harris, band members Bryan McDowell (fiddle-mandolin), Jarrod Walker (mandolin-guitar) and Mark Schatz (bass-banjo) impressed the audience with their musicianship.
The music was bluegrass-oriented. Lynch proudly announced they were the first bluegrassers to play the Dekker Centre. But, in addition to well-known classics such as Wabash Cannonball, Lynch sang many of her own tunes, including Dear Sister, which won song of the year at the 2014 International Bluegrass Music Association awards. The haunting lament was written by Lynch and Louisa Branscomb, based on real letters of Civil War correspondence discovered and chronicled by Frank Chappell in his book Dear Sister: Civil War Letters to a Sister in Alabama.
Most written records from the American Civil War are written by officers, Lynch noted, but the letters on which her song was based were written by a private.
On the upside, the audience was treated to some hambone and clogging by Schatz, known to be one of America's best hambone percussionists. Hambone involves slapping various body parts, including the chest, arms and thighs – effectively drumming without a drum.
The Claire Lynch Band came to the Dekker Centre with hefty credentials behind it.
Lynch has had two Grammy nominations, three International Bluegrass Music Association Female Vocalist Awards and a United States Artists Walker Fellowship. Recently, she received two trophies at the 2014 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards: Song of the Year, Dear Sister, a co-write with Louisa Branscomb; and Recorded Event of the Year, Wild Montana Skies, a collaboration with Rob Ickes and Special Consensus on their Compass Records Country Boy tribute to John Denver.
Emmylou Harris describes Lynch as having the “voice of an angel.”
Dolly Parton, whom Lynch has lent harmonies on several records, believes her solo material truly stands out. Parton says, “She has one of the sweetest, purest and best lead voices in the music business today. I’m so happy to see her shine on her own.”
Named by DigitalJournal.com as one of the “10 best angelic voices of our time” alongside icons like Judy Collins, Sarah McLachlin and Alison Krauss, Lynch is a legend in her own right.
The Battlefords was fortunate indeed to host a performance by this extraordinary talent.