Laura Orshaw

Having the Time of Her Life

by Susan Marquez

Laura Orshaw is having the time of her life. She has been on the road most of the spring, touring with the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys. The summer and fall touring schedule will be just as busy, and Laura wouldn’t have it any other way. “After spending so much time without much going on during COVID, we have been making up for lost time. It was a hectic spring!”

A native of Pennsylvania, Laura grew up in a music-filled home. “My father played bluegrass music. He learned it from his mom—my grandmother. My dad can play just about any instrument but mostly plays guitar and mandolin.” Laura remembers her dad preparing and recording a weekly bluegrass show for the radio. “Sometimes they did a raffle to give something away, and he would call me in to pick the raffle winner.” He also worked in a local music store, so he often took Laura to work with him.

“I took music lessons from a lady who taught classical violin in the store,” recalls Laura. “I learned technique from her, but she knew I wanted to play fiddle, so she let me play fiddle music.” Laura learned to sing by listening to her dad and grandmother. “I had no chance. I was surrounded by music.”

One of Laura’s favorite childhood memories was watching music shows on TV. “I loved to watch Alison Krauss sing Oh Atlanta. There were few fiddle players in my area. I was so inspired by her.”

Laura studied counseling and student affairs in college and worked at a hospital in Pennsylvania for a while. “I always did music on the side, with weekend gigs, and practicing during the week. I knew music would be a big part of my life.”  She didn’t realize how big.

“I attended the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival outside of Boston and met a lot of young pickers. I didn’t know a lot of musicians my age, so that was really fun for me. Boston seemed like a great town for music, and I was hoping for a job at a college, and Boston has a lot of them. It just seemed like there were so many fun opportunities for me there.”

Packing Up ...Moving On

So, Laura packed her bags and moved to Boston ten years ago, taking a job at Lesley University. Boston has been a good place for Laura to develop her style. She played around town and became more involved in the national bluegrass scene. “I had an opportunity to fill in with Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass when their fiddle player took some time away from touring. I played several tours with him, which was a wonderful experience. They have played together for twenty or thirty years, and I thrived on the consistency and energy they brought to the stage. It got me inspired to learn and do more.”

Laura played with Alan Bibey and Grasstowne before joining the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys. “It’s been a wonderful experience. One thing I’ve enjoyed is meeting a lot of my bluegrass heroes.”

Laura also enjoys being in the studio. Her solo album, Solitary Diamond, was released in late May. “I was trying to think of a name for the album, starting with titles of the songs, then looking at the lyrics, looking at phrases, and nothing jumped out to me or made sense on their own.” Laura explains that several songs tell the story of people doing things their way. While that’s not always appreciated, they make an impact by doing it on their own. “One of the songs on the album is ‘On Her Own,’ and another song mentions a diamond, and it came to me, Solitary Diamond.” 

She has been playing some of the songs from the album on her tour with the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys. “I’m so pleased with this album,” says Laura. “One of the songs, ‘Speak Your Heart,’ was written by seasoned songwriter Mark Simos, who is also a musician from the Boston area.”

Laura enjoys listening to old music, field music, and classic bluegrass, then rearranging songs to give them her twist. “I love doing research. I am heavily influenced by country music. I enjoy getting to know a song. When the lyrical content is strong, I love to develop it to something I like.” Laura says she particularly enjoys vocals. “I love fiddling to back up the vocalists.”

Describing the songs on her album as an intersection of country music, old time, and bluegrass, Laura says she worked to find a way to make it feel authentic to her. “I received good leadership and advice from Stephen and Jana Mougin at Dark Shadow Recording out of Nashville. Stephen provided a lot of insight into arranging songs while I was in the studio, which helped me with singing techniques.” Rick Faris, Becky Buller, and Stephen Mougin are all on the Dark Shadow label, and Laura has played on some of their projects. “Becky is a friend and a musical inspiration to me.”

The album is particularly sweet to Laura. “COVID was a time to focus and having something to work towards. I feel like I have celebrated life in the recording studio. This certainly has been quite a unique time in my life.”