Have you heard the name Jami Lynn? Remember it. It’ll be cool soon. Heck, it’s already cool. Especially if you like bluegrass music and the story of a rising star who just happens to be a local girl.
Jami Lynn, a folk and blue grass singer and songwriter, has recorded four albums. The latest one, Fall is a Good Time to Die, was named Telegraph’s 2015 Country Album of the Year in the UK. She topped Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Rikki Lee Jones, Amos Lee, and Tom Paxton. Really. She’s that good. She also won the Tupelo Honey Second Best Album of 2015 in Eugene, Oregon. Not since 1996, when Shawn Colvin came out with the song “Sunny Came Home,” has a South Dakota musician attracted this much attention.
Jami Lynn, whose full name is Jami Lynn Buttke, rocks the vocals, plays the banjo and guitar and appears alongside her band Dalton Coffey (guitar, mandolin, and dobro) and Andrew Reinartz (bass). She also has shared the stage with legends Spider John Koerner, Gillian Welch, The Wood Brothers, and claw-grass great Mark Johnson and has been recognized by music critics from as far away as The Netherlands and France. But, she grew up right in your backyard on a farm in Corona, South Dakota. Her parents, Susan and Brian Buttke, still live there.
She’s a unique and versatile alto, whose voice could easily be described as haunting, magical, or ethereal with just the right amount of twang. She started singing at age 13 when her grandfather, Eldred Buttke, finally coaxed her onto the stage. After that, she frequently attended old time jamborees in South Shore, Peever, and Sisseton with Eldred and his wife Alma. “I was really drawn to folk and bluegrass because of going to those jamborees with my grandparents.”
She then graduated from high school and headed off to Nashville never looking back. Nope. Not Jami Lynn. She has stayed true to her roots and still lives and works in the Black Hills. She admits it’s unusual to be able to foster a musical career touring the Midwest but she has carved out her own niche and her fans aren’t complaining. Perhaps they resonate with her affection for home that always shines through in her lyrics.
To feed this songwriting addiction, she often can be found poking around in museums and dusty attics searching for never-before-told stories and long forgotten snippets she turns into tunes. Many of the songs on her album Sodbusters, were a tribute to her pioneer ancestors, in particular her great great grandmother Lydia who came to the Midwest aboard a prairie schooner. Along with the original cuts, there was also a mix of several South Dakota folk songs, a Norwegian lullaby, a cowboy ballad, and an Irish folk tune.
The blending of the old, the new, the personal, and the folk or universal is her signature style and where she seems to feel the most comfortable. While attending the University of South Dakota, where she studied classical voice, she occasionally performed at Gayville Hall in Gayville, S.D. It remains one of her favorite venues. She remembered, “The hall is an old grocery store transformed into a mini Grand Ole Opry. They rotate musicians and it has an old time feel. The green room is actually green and there’s an old-fashioned soda fountain.”
On Fall is a Good Time to Die, she penned all 10 tracks. The songs reach back to a time even earlier than those on Sodbuster to thousands of years before the settlers arrived. In these, she highlights the landscape, the animals, and the Old People through stories of harshness and survival with songs such as Red Fox, Wolf, Coyote, and North Wind. Melancholy stuff, maybe, but not in the hands of Jami Lynn. She personifies that “high lonesome” style that distinguishes bluegrass and definitely exudes an emotionally intense vibe, but she couples it with simplicity and sweetness like a dessert with just the right amount of tartness.
Somehow, even dealing with the crazy music business world has not changed Jami Lynn’s humble Midwestern manner or stolen her sense of humor. She only briefly departed from this to brag about rubbing up against some of the biggest names in Nashville like Vince Gill. “I literally, bumped into him,” she laughed, “We both were headed to the restroom.” We can only guess if he realized he had a near miss with the next star of American roots music.
Jami Lynn is an enthusiastic supporter and participant in the program South Dakota Artists in Schools and Communities. She will be the Artist in Residence at Koch School in Milbank until March 4. She will also perform at the Second Annual Arts Council Fundraiser on Friday, February 26.