Alumni profile: Claire Byrne

When not touring with Driftwood, Claire Byrne resides in Binghamton, N.Y. where she teaches private violin lessons in her home.
Photo courtesy of Maggie Gilroy / Reverb Editor

Reverb Editor

Claire Byrne currently spends a majority of her time in a 15 passenger Ford E-350 with four other musicians. Those musicians are Driftwood, a shanty rock band that currently tours around the country creating a national fan-base.

But, prior to Driftwood, Byrne was just another musician hanging out at the creek and jamming at Coughlan’s.

A 27-year-old with an enthusiastic smile and long, curly hair, Byrne is a native of Endwell, New York. She graduated from Maine Endwell High School before attending Binghamton University for three semesters. Byrne then transferred to Fredonia into the sound recording technology program, seeking a different vibe than at Binghamton University.

Initially a double major in violin performance and SRT, Byrne chose to remain as solely an SRT major after a semester. While a violin student, Byrne studied with Maureen Yuen, who is currently still on the violin faculty.

“I’m really, really glad that I did. It was kind of the extra kick, college level studying, was very different than the other teachers that I had. It was very rigorous and I learned a lot about playing. But it was too much to do it all,” Byrne said in a recent interview about dropping the performance major. “I had to pick.”

Byrne currently utilizes the skills she acquired as an SRT major during concerts and recording sessions for Driftwood.

“Although I am not a recording engineer recording albums all the time I apply it all the time,” Byrne said. “And then, of course, the lessons and hours and hours of practicing with Maureen Yuen helped me very, very much.”

Outside of her classical lessons with Yuen, Fredonia was one of the first places where Byrne began playing recreationally. She frequently jammed at Coughlan’s Pub with her first band, Spanish Misfortune.

“That was a really big game changer for me, playing with other people like that,” said Byrne.“ So many people that not necessarily were [in] the music department, but very much into music.”

In June 2008, the week after Byrne returned home following her fourth year at Fredonia, Nate Marshall, a musician Byrne met at BU, was doing a one-week tour of New York State. He asked his friends Dan Forsyth and Joe Kollar to go on the tour with him, and then asked Byrne to join them as well.

“It was kind of a band blind date,” Byrne said of the tour.

Although Byrne had seen Forsyth and Kollar play once or twice with their band, Driftwood, she had never met them previously in person. But they picked her up at her parents’ house and “we hit if off musically and personality-wise, and so from then on we became a band.”

Since that “band blind date,” Driftwood has produced three albums: “Rally Day” (2009), “A Rock & Roll Heart” (2011) and, most recently, “Driftwood” in Dec. 2013. Their music video “The Sun’s Going Down,” from the self-titled album, recently premiered on
and their affiliate CMT Edge.

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“The video was met with a lot of success, people really liked it. It’s been a nice aid in getting some better tour offers and things like that,” Byrne said. “It’s cool. People think I’m way more famous than I am,” she laughed.

On March 19 the group recently announced their partnership with New Frontier Touring. They put over 40,000 miles on their van between 256 tour dates in 2013 and plan to continue touring in the summer.

“I love it and my bandmates love it,” said Byrne of touring. “You’ve got to be willing to compromise all the time and sacrifice things that you want.”To date, the band has yet to miss a show.When not touring, Byrne also teaches private violin lessons out of her home in Binghamton, New York.“It takes a hard outer shell and a lot of determination,” Byrne says to Fredonia students wishing to pursue a career in music. “If you want to pursue a career in music, be it classically or jazz, there’s a number of routes you can take. It’s competitive and you can get downhearted sometimes, for sure.”

Byrne encourages all musicians to “keep going” if they feel themselves becoming downhearted.

“It’s a rewarding industry,” she said. “Why did we all start playing music? Because we really liked it.”

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