Bluegrass purist Claire set for Omagh festival

Festival chart topper Claire Lynch from Northern Alabama performing at the Ship gallery on Saturday afternoon.
Festival chart topper Claire Lynch from Northern Alabama performing at the Ship gallery on Saturday afternoon.

A singer described by Dolly Parton with having “one of the sweetest, purest and best lead voices” in American country music today will top the bill at the Ulster American Folk Park Bluegrass festival in Omagh set to be held on September 4-6.

The multi award-winning Claire Lynch and her band will headline the three-day hoedown and organiser Richard Hurst, confirming the booking exclusively this week, said he is extremely excited about welcoming Claire for the second time after memorable performances at the Omagh venue in 2009.

Claire, long recognised and praised as a highly creative force in acoustic music, is a pioneer continually pushing the boundaries in the bluegrass music genre.

She was 2013 top female vocalist for the International Bluegrass Music Association and a 2012 recipient of the United States Artistes’ Walker Fellowship. Born in Kingston, New York state, Claire grew up in Alabama weaned on country and bluegrass music.

Her career is decorated with many other accolades including two Grammies and three International Bluegrass Music Association female vocalist awards.

Claire’s harmonies have graced the recordings of many musicians and she is also a gifted songwriter, with songs recorded by Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea and The Whites.

Richard Hurst says the current Claire Lynch band is “a powerful juggernaut, a quartet with the innate ability to perfectly interpret the beauty, subtlety, and genre-defying sophistication” of Claire’s music. The band features like-minded musicians blending tradition and innovation - two-time IBMA-winning bassist-clawhammer banjo player-dancer-percussionist Mark Schatz; soulful mandolinist-guitarist Jarrod Walker, and young string wizard Bryan McDowell, who at 18, won an unprecedented triple win at the Winfield, Kansas National Flatpicking Championship.

In 2014, Digital listed Claire as “one of the 10 best angelic voices of our time”. She shared the honour with luminaries Judy Collins, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.

Along with 14 other acts, Claire will excite and delight the estimated 10,000-plus visitors to Omagh for the festival.

Other acts already booked include: Viper Central from Canada; CC Smugglers from England, and Bill Faster from the Slovak Republic.

* CHARLEY PRIDE was in sparkling form at his two shows in the Waterfront Hall, Belfast at the weekend, delighting his legion of fans who packed the Laganside venue.

The Mississippi man may be 77, but vocally he is still a class act, demonstrating this over 90 minutes at the show I attended on Saturday night.

Backed by his band The Pridesmen - six highly accomplished country musicians, five Texans and a Tenessean - Charley sang up to 40 songs, all of his chart classics and the hits of some his Nashville contemporaries.

After a warm-up session by Charley’s younger brother Stephen, the ‘Big Man’ provided on-style medleys of the songs that made him a legend for half a century.

Near the finale, Charley announced he would be coming out into the Waterfront Hall foyer to meet and greet fans who wanted to get selfies and autographs from him and hundreds eagerly queued for this unique opportunity.

Rarely do singing stars of this stature hang around after shows to chat with the fans. But this was Charley’s “Thank You” to his Northern Ireland fans who faithfully turned up for his shows since he first appeared in Belfast in 1976.