Countless musicians have looked to Sharon Lane for inspiration and guidance for decades, regardless of genre. She is considered a surrogate mother to many in and around Dayton, and isn’t insulted at the notion of being considered an “elder” of local music.
“Young people still like me for some reason. They want to hear what I do,” Lane begins. “I think it’s because I am probably one of the elders of the community now. I think about when I was young — the elders of the community — and how I aggravated the hell out of them to learn or make them share their time with me.”
So she makes time whenever she can. But the respect paid to Lane has been earned a thousand times over by someone who has paid her dues and long before some of her younger fans were even born.
“I guess what I would say is I’ve been in Dayton almost all of my life. I discovered a guitar when I was about 13 or 14. I knew three chords—all the same key. So I played every Woody Guthrie song in the same key. If I ran into a change that I didn’t know, I would just stop playing, make it big and sing over top of it and come back in,” Lane laughs.
She married young, had a child and soon found herself a single parent. That’s when Lane decided it was time to channel her energy back into music. She took a job at local bar and it changed her life forever.
“When I got divorced, I started sitting at the piano and writing again. Of course, I got involved at Canal Street, which is just like one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Lane says. “(Owner) Mick Montgomery was actually the one that said, ‘Man, you need to be playing in front of people.’”
She spent the better part of the next nine years hosting the Musicians Co-Op where she put more than 2,000 artists on stage from the region and around the world. It was through this experience and opening for various other artists that the word started to get out about Sharon Lane.
“It put me in a situation where I met other musicians and people came to know who I was,” she explains. “I honed my craft there.”
Lane eventually went on to become a teacher by day while playing gigs at night, first running an after-school program before accepting a position with Stivers School for the Arts. There, she has taught lyric writing and spoken word, and produces two shows annually. More than a decade as an educator later, Lane says it’s been another move that’s changed her life for the better.
“If I would have realized how much I liked teaching, I might not have pursued the music thing so hardcore,” she smiles. “These kids are amazing. They’re not stupid, they’re smart. They’re aware of what’s going on around them. They’re aware of good and bad.”
She’s also become an activist, having most recently taken part in the Women’s March on Dayton. After speaking about the movement on television, Lane was met with death threats for her efforts.
“I try to be politically active. Especially now, because I think now is the time people need to be aware of what’s going on, probably more so now than ever, at least in my lifetime.”
Still, undaunted, Lane looks back only to look forward and continue to write and play more music.
“You wake up one day and say, ‘Damn. If I’m going to write that book, maybe now’s the time to start it. Whatever it is one feels so inclined to do. You realize you are living in your last part of your life, and you need to make it count.” she says. “I kind of feel lucky in the fact that I was born in 1950 and I had the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s — some of that I’d like to get rid of — the ‘90s, all the way up to where I am now.”
And you’ll find no bigger ambassador of Dayton than her.
“The one thing I’ll say about Dayton, Ohio is this: there’s never a dull moment when it comes to art. There are some of the most incredible artists in this city. I’m sure other places can say that, but it just seems like we have an abundancy of that. So it’s always been my pleasure to be a part of that.”
What is it you do?
“I’m a singer- songwriter. I’m a teacher, and I’m a parent and a grandparent. That’s what I do.”
What superpower would you love to have?
“I would like to be able to move objects with my mind. If I’m sitting and writing, I want the coffee to come to me.”
What do you love about life in Dayton?
“I’m really excited about Dayton right now. It is really bubbling. It has been for a few years, but there are new places to go. That next group of young people have come out and they’re starting businesses. There’s people out on the streets now. I went down Main Street at 9 ‘o’clock (at night) and there was a bunch of people down there! This is cool! I like living in Dayton because it just feels like living in a small town. And you really have to rely on people here a lot. Good groups of people.”
What is your favorite spot in Dayton?
“I can’t even say that. I don’t know. I like it. Period.”
Why did you decide to settle in Dayton?
“I didn’t have any choice. My parents were here. They came here to work at General Motors, like most people did.”
How did you get involved in your line of work?
“My mother was a beautiful woman and she loved rock ‘n’ roll music! She turned me on to Little Richard, Bo Diddly, Sam Cook, Elvis Presley and all those people. By the time I was 5 years old, I knew every word to those songs. My biological father was a Johnny Horton cowboy type. He liked Marty Robbins and all of that, and he played guitar. My stepfather turned me on to jazz. Then I’m a ‘60s baby, and we all know what happened in the ‘60s! BAM!”
If you could change one thing about Dayton, what would it be?
“Don’t be so safe. Take some risks. Rules are meant to be broken. Don’t make your rules so tight that when something comes that is wonderful and marvelous that you walk on it and don’t take advantage of it. Garden Station: When you have people that take initiative, ask for no money — don’t ask for anything — and they clean up and make this beautiful artistic space, and the city just ignores that. If all of Dayton is going to be a neighborhood, then isn’t that what you want? If there’s a rule standing in the way, well either break the damn rule or make a new rule.”
What do you think Dayton will look like in 10-15 years?
“Probably about what it does now. I don’t think it’ll change that much. They might add a thing here or there. Businesses may thrive a little more, I’m hoping.”