Laura Orshaw Speaks Out on Bluegrass

by Kara M. Bachman

 

Fiddler Laura Orshaw has rubbed her bow across strings while on stage with the greats. Del McCoury. Ricky Skaggs. Tony Trischka. That’s not even plucking at the surface; there’s a long list, including people such as Becky Buller and the act she’s currently touring with, Po’ Ramblin’ Boys.

“It keeps me learning, being inspired by different types of people…I love collaborating,” Orshaw said, of the wide variety of experiences she’s had.

the bluegrass standardA Pennsylvania native now living in Boston, Orshaw feels lucky to have grown up around music. Both her father and grandmother played bluegrass, and her grandmother was “a strong woman I could learn from and emulate.” Her earliest music interests were handed down from her grandmother: she fell in love with “old school”-style performers of the 1950s. Orshaw admits that at the time, she “didn’t see a lot of women fronting bands,” so also looked to country — where there were more women in the main spotlight — to find much of her inspiration as a female performer.

“I had to always kind of imagine what it would be like to have a woman-fronted bluegrass band in the 1950s,” she said.

Things have changed a lot since then, and Orshaw specifically mentioned artists such as Sister Sadie and Becky Buller, who show that women can today be the main attraction. “I think there’s been quite a bit of progress made in the past ten years,” she said, of growing female representation within the genre.

Orshaw’s own confidence as a woman fiddler came with the first band she toured with around Pennsylvania and New York, Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass. “It was a real affirmation that I could do that…I could hold my own, and was respected for that,” Orshaw reminisced.

Orshaw is married to a fellow musician and said she has a good “family team” around her, which she cites as important for anybody’s success in the business.

“My family makes sacrifices for me to be able to do this,” she explained, adding that someday she’d like to have children. Although she understands that a family/work balancing act is always in order, she dreams of the positive affect her music career might have on her kids. “Hopefully, someday my kids will be able to know I’m a strong mom and a strong musician…that’s the goal,” she said.

Speaking of kids, Orshaw began fooling around with music when she was about six or seven years old. She began with singing and playing chords on the guitar and mandolin. Then, one day, everything changed. “I’d have a routine before bed where I’d watch bluegrass performances with my dad,” she explained. One night, she saw Alison Krauss play. “I wanted to try the fiddle…I was probably ten when I first started taking lessons, and there was no turning back,” she said.

Her earliest moments onstage were with her father’s band, the Lonesome Road Ramblers. She’d get up on stage for guest appearances starting at around age 12 and stayed with the group through her high school years. Over time, she’s learned and grown as a musician. One lesson she learned is actually important advice she’d like to pass on to aspiring female musicians.

“Don’t be afraid to kinda speak up and ask for what you want for yourself,” she suggested. “I always kinda waited for people to come to me…I never really thought about…where do I want to go?” She said an “assertive personality never came easily,” but one day someone advised her that it’s the key to progressing as a professional musician. She took the advice to heart. “It’s made a huge difference,” she said. “It’s a real turning point in my career.”

That career, by all accounts, is soaring. For instance, The Po’ Rambling Boys record on which Orshaw performed — “Toil, Tears, & Trouble” — just got nominated for a Grammy Award. “It’s an incredible honor,” Orshaw said, her voice infused with pure happiness.

 

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