The three-woman band combines virtuosic singing and instrumentalism to every show.
On Thursday, Jan. 16, the Vintage Wildflowers graced Lorton Performance Center with a concert. I had never listened to any of their songs, and I wasn’t even sure what type of music they played, but the band name invoked images of pastures and bookstores, and I wanted to learn more. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed.
The concert was an installment of TU’s Concerts With Commentary Series, and this particular performance marked 10 years since the band first played on campus for the same event.
Vintage Wildflowers consists of three extremely talented women. Abby Bozarth played fiddle and accordion and sang low harmonies. Audrey McSperitt-Schmidt was the lead singer and played guitar, flute and bodhran (a handheld Irish drum). Finally, TU’s own professor of classical piano, Dana Fitzgerald-Maher, demonstrated her mastery of the piano, as well as her skills on the Celtic harp, whistling and singing high harmonies.
The performance opened with a performance of “Colleen Mallone” that introduced McSperitt-Schmidt’s powerful vocals. Her wildflower dress not only reflected the band name but also accompanied the vivid imagery of meadows that the first song invoked.
The band played several tune sets over the course of the fourteen-song concert. These consisted of several instrumental ditties that highlighted each performer. The first showcased Bozarth’s deft Celtic fiddle-playing, McSperitt-Schmidt’s soft guitar and Fitzgerald-Maher’s piano, echoing a gathering thunderstorm right before the rain. After this set, McSperitt-Schmidt commented, “I know we’re in this fancy fancy concert hall, but it’s still just a party.” The performance was more of a midnight gathering to dance in a field under soft moonlight next to the warm glow of a dying fire. Now that’s my kind of party.
The concert featured several more tune sets including “The Dancing Bear,” “The Rakes of Kildare” and “The Wildflower Set.” The first was an instrumental set that showcased the versatile musical talents of each of the musicians. If you closed your eyes, you could see the bear and dance with him; it was fast-paced and thrilling. The second set transported me to a barn with firefly lights and the hum of a crowd teeming with excitement.
I felt like I should be swinging a partner on the packed dirt floor, boots kicking and smiles ablaze. Each set was perfectly balanced in instrumentation.When one section of the set highlighted one Bozarth’s precision with her fiddle or gentle accordion, the next contains McSperitt-Schmidt’s flute or soft, deliberate drumming or Fitzgerald-Maher’s bold piano or dreamy harp.
The “Wildflower Set” was written by Maher’s son, Quinn, who attends the University of Tulsa as a music and engineering double major. Maher joked that he wrote both this set and his “Irish Blessing” that they played following the set while he was procrastinating studying. The “Wildflower Set” included songs written about each of the members of the band. Bozarth’s “Daisy Jig” proved her joyfulness while accompanying Schmidt’s “Nightshade Heir” and Maher’s “Rose Reel.”
The loving atmosphere was interrupted by two songs with extremely dark lyrics. An audience member described “I Am Stretched on Your Grave” as “That really pitiful one.” The haunting lyrics were made more ominous by the lack of instruments. The second song was called “False Lady,” and though it sounds like your typical upbeat Irish jig, “by the third verse there has been a murder,” says Schmidt. It was the perfect combination of peppy and chipper and absolutely tragic. It would make a great accompaniment to a murder mystery chase scene.
The band played a few songs that will be released with their new, fourth album in early 2020. “Down in the Salley Garden” was inspired by a Yeats poem and makes even the most melancholic and slow sound beautiful. “Peg and Awl,” my favorite, is a workman’s lament outlining the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution that are often glossed over. The title describes a shoemaker’s tools and the song explores his loss of work in the early 1800s as machines replaced manpower.
The concert was a moving combination of songs about joy and loss, love and heartbreak, and I certainly will be looking forward to their new album. The audio elements combined with the charming anecdotal interjections between songs coalesced into an event that made you want to laugh, dance, sway, move to Ireland and look at vintage wildflowers.