Lewis fell in love with American folk music as a teenager, at the sunset of the 1960s folk revival. She says of the Berkeley Folk Festivals where she first caught the folk bug:
"Oh, it was so exciting. Every night there were concerts, and during the day you'd be in a eucalyptus grove listening to someone making music with nothing between you and them. Every day I'd hear something new, Doc Watson or the Greenbriar Boys. Something about it just invited me to start playing it."
She began picking simple songs on the guitar, then the fiddle. After high school, she drifted away from the music, but always kept her fiddle under her bed, not knowing exactly why.
In her early 20s, she discovered the Bay Area bluegrass scene. To her, it was . .
"like opening that door all over again. Here were all these people making music together, and I could immediately see myself as part of it. It woke up all that excitement I felt as a teenager, and I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life."
The bluegrass scene of Northern California was a powerful mix of the region's historic progressivism and ardent devotion to musical tradition. Nobody minded that young Laurie was a woman, a non-southerner, or a novice. They did mind if she didn't want to learn, chapter and verse, the gospels of Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley. It gave her a rock-ribbed foundation in the rudiments of American roots music.
"It really was a different deal coming to bluegrass in the San Francisco Bay area. There weren't a lot of cutting contests; it was all about making music together, a focus on interdependency rather than individual prowess."
In the mid-1970s, she co-founded the Good Ol' Persons, an all-female bluegrass band with Kathy Kallick. In 1979 she founded the Grant Street String Band, also including Beth Weil, Tom Bekeny, Greg Townsend, and Steve Krouse, in which her own songwriting came to the forefront. In the late 1980s, she formed "Laurie Lewis and Grant Street". Since then, she has recorded solo and duo albums, usually accompanied by mandolin artist and singer, Tom Rozum. Nowadays, she often plays under different names with a fairly regular roster of musicians, calling themselves "Laurie Lewis and her Bluegrass Pals," "the Guest House Band;" in 2006, she renamed her group "Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands."
Many years ago, Lewis twice won California's Women's Fiddling championships. She is a versatile musician, having for many years played bass and sung with the late Dick Oxtot's Golden Age Jazz Band, as well as with the Bay Area band the Arkansas Sheiks. Lewis plays guitar and other string instruments. As a crossover artist, Lewis is comfortable with folk music and some pop music. She writes her own lyrics as well as composing the music. Her Songbook contains most of the songs she wrote in the twentieth century, as well as photographs from her from early life and the early days of her career. She has received a Grammy, and was previously nominated for that honor.