"I think bluegrass is dividing into camps and they're kind of exclusive of each other," she said from her Bay Area home. "There's at least two different things happening. One is that bluegrass seems to be getting more and more slick and commercial. I see it a lot in the Southeast and some of the most popular bluegrass bands. They've gotten so smooth and perfect and it's amazing. But to me, it loses something of what attracted me to bluegrass in the first place, which is this visceral hang-your-heart-out feel. I love that. You can still find that in a lot of bluegrass, but that doesn't seem to be the basic trend in the music's popularity."
Lewis has taken the high, lonesome road less traveled, preferring the warmth of a tight ensemble to cold flash.
"My music tends to be about playing together, rather than how many notes you can put in how small a space," she said. "For the musicians that I tend to want to play with, the song becomes the leader. The song dictates how you play, what the feel is, rather than the song being a vehicle for what you do."
Lewis is touring with longtime duet partner and former Tucsonan Tom Rozum (mandolin), stalwart Craig Smith (banjo) and up-and-coming players Micheal Witcher (dobro) and Todd Sickafose (bass).
Tucson is a special place for Lewis. Whenever she hits town, she enjoys picking with Rozum's fellow Summerdog alumnus Peter McLaughlin. This time out, unfortunately, McLaughlin won't be available due to prior commitments.
"I have this bulletin board," she said with a glum tone. "There's a bunch of photos of Peter on it and it makes me miss him a lot."
A highly respected songwriter, Lewis has had songs recorded by Kathy Mattea ("Love Chooses You") and Patsy Montana ("Cowgirl Song," the unofficial song of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame). But pitching her songs isn't where her interests are right now.
"You have to be around Nashville reminding people that they love your material if you want to get a song recorded by someone else," she explained. "I just don't have that drive. I write for myself. I love it when other people do my material, but it hasn't been something I've been looking to make as part of my living. I think maybe someday I will, but right now I still love being on the road."
Laurie Lewis and her Bluegrass Pals will perform on Wednesday, January 17 at 7:30 p.m. in Crowder Hall, in the UA music building, just south of Speedway Boulevard near Park Avenue. Reserved seats are $15, with a $2 discount for In Concert! members. Tickets are available at Hear's Music, Antigone Books and the Folk Shop, or charge by phone at 327-4809 (outside Tucson: 877-327-4809). For more information, call In Concert! at 327-4809.