Local girl-makes-good Megan Lynch returns to where it all started
The arc of Megan Lynch’s story is reminiscent of the old joke about a visitor to New York who asks a guy on the street: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”
“Practice,” is his reply.
And it took lots of practice for Lynch to get to the stage of the Sierra Nevada Big Room. The night before I spoke with her, she performed at the Grand Ol’ Opry, playing fiddle for Pam Tillis. Such a gig would seem to suggest that Lynch has arrived, but she doesn’t see it that way. She’s just another struggling musician—struggling to make ends meet, and struggling with her own personal insecurities.
“I’ve been told by musicians who have a reasonable career—and by a reasonable career I mean a career where you’re able to make a living and pay your rent until you die—that the most important thing is to have lots of irons in the fire,” she says. “If someone asks if you can play mandolin on a Wednesday night in a Greek restaurant for $100, you need to take that gig if you don’t have anything else going. Teach, tour, write, do studio work, whatever it takes. In this town, Nashville, you make it by being adaptable.”
Lynch is a former student of mine, as bright and vivacious as any I ever had. I’d like to say I taught her everything she knows, but the class she took from me was in literature, and what she probably knows best is the fiddle, and there’s no part of that knowledge she got from me.
Back in the days when she was in my class, she was also honing her talents playing with String Nation, the local bluegrass band Mike Station used to front. Lynch is now the fiddle player with 3 Fox Drive, a high-energy bluegrass band out of Nashville. The group started as The Fox Family, after siblings Kim, Joel and Barb Fox began making a name for themselves in the northeastern bluegrass circuit. The Foxes soon set out recruiting musicians for what would become 3 Fox Drive—including mandolinist Jim Reed, upright bassist Mike Anglin and Lynch—and released its first record, Listen to the Music, in 2005.Now 3 Fox Drive is coming to Chico to play the Big Room March 25—with local girl Lynch returning to her old stomping grounds in triumph.
That’s one version of the American dream.Lynch grew up in Redding, and won her first national fiddle competition when she was only 8. From there she went on to win multiple state and national competitions, including the Minnesota State Championship.
When she took up the fiddle, Lynch thought she was serving a natural talent."It isn’t natural talent that gets me gigs; it was discipline and hard work,” she says. “Realizing that fact was a huge revelation to me, and a good one. I used to worry that once I’d plumbed whatever gift I’d been given, then I was done. But that’s not how it works. When I looked back at all the time I spent practicing I realized, ‘for the love of god, I’ve practiced my ass off.’ Sure, natural talent is nice, but the fact is you take that talent, whatever your portion, and you build on it.”
But she added that insecurities are always there, no matter how much work she’s put in.
“Last night, I’m standing on the stage at the Grand Ol’ Opry, afraid I’ll be discovered as a fraud. I constantly have to fight the idea that everybody but me knows how to do this thing right.”
It’s a struggle known to all who have quit their day jobs to do any kind of work in the arts, nudging a precarious livelihood out of the things they most love to do.
Her advice for other wannabe professional musicians who want to go for it?
“First, you’d better acknowledge that you may not be able to live anywhere you want,” she says. “You’ve got to live where the music gets made. Living in Nashville is extremely important for me. I got the gig with Pam Tillis because I was near at hand. When Pam needed a fiddle player, I got a call and I went to her house the next morning to audition.”
Lynch now lives 20 miles north of Nashville, sharing a house with her boyfriend and former 3 Fox Drive bassist Mike Anglin. She spends nearly all of her time with musicians these days.
"They’re people who just can’t do anything else,” she says. “There’s hardly a one of us with a successful marriage, or without screwed-up kids. But if you’ve got a calling, you’ve got to make the sacrifices necessary. I made a conscious decision not to have children at this point. This is it; this is what I do.”
For all the struggles and insecurities that come with it, Lynch likes the life. She even enjoys touring, the bane of many musicians’ lives.
“I like the travel,” she says. “I’m obsessed with conflict resolution, of being on the road with the band without killing each other. When I’m home I feel so much obligation to get things done. Women can’t look around the room and not see something that needs to be done, so the road frees me from that.”
Women also have some tendencies when it comes to music.“You take a hundred fiddle players and the women will want to play waltzes,” she said. “I have a feeling that when women waltz, there is something about being led. If you can get your man to waltz with you, that’s a big deal. … And women players will wear the hell out of a ballad, but men want to do the barn burners. I don’t care how liberated we think we are, the differences are just hard to deny. Nine times out of 10 I can tell the difference between a male and a female player just by ear.”
Lead singer and guitarist Kim Fox writes much of the 3 Fox Drive music, and Lynch says she loves playing her stuff.
“Audiences want to know that musicians are being thoughtful, and are playing things that matter to somebody,” she says. “I’m addicted to playing with 3 Fox Drive because the songs are about small things that are so deeply spoken that they matter. Every time I hear the lyrics, they matter to me.”