In full bloom

In full bloom

Low Lily taps into a blossoming traditional music scene in Brattleboro

PUTNEY — How does a band find a name for itself?

The string and vocal trio Low Lily had an innovative idea: run a contest on Facebook.

The Brattleboro ensemble consists of Liz Simmons on guitar, her husband, Flynn Cohen, on mandolin and guitar, and Lissa Schneckenburger on fiddle. All three provide the vocals. Together, they explore the roots and branches of American folk music with traditional influences and modern inspiration that weave together a unique brand of acoustic music.

On Saturday, April 23, at 7:30 p.m., Twilight Music and Next Stage Arts Project will present Low Lily at Next Stage at 15 Kimball Hill Rd. in downtown Putney. Joining Low Lily for this concert will be Cantrip, playing high-energy Scottish music.

Cantrip is a trio of musicians sprung from a local music session in Edinburgh, Scotland, 15 years ago. From the strong base of its Celtic roots, Cantrip branches out into the music of other European cultures. With Dan Houghton on bagpipes, flute, whistles, and guitar; Eric McDonald on guitar, mandolin, and bouzouki; and Jon Bews on fiddle, Cantrip weaves together songs and tunes traditional and contemporary, putting their own spin on each style.

“Cantrip” is an Old Scots word meaning a charm, magic spell or piece of mischief and aptly describes the unexpected twists and turns in the trio's musical arrangements as well as the compelling potency of their musicianship.

What to name Low Lily proved to be less obvious.

“Low Lily is a new band, only a year and half old, but it had a former incarnation as Annalivia,” says Liz Simmons, who has been a member of both groups. “When Lissa Schneckenburger joined me and my husband Flynn in Annalivia, she brought such a vital fresh energy that we felt we needed to make a fresh start for our musical project with a new name for our band.”

Simmons believes that the new band grew organically out of the old one.

“There is a lot that is musically similar between the two,” she says. “But our music-making is such a collaborative process, and Lissa turned out to be such a big part of what we do, that to keep the old name struck us as misleading.”

But none of the members were sure what to call themselves.

“So we decided to go to the public,” says Simmons. “We created a 'name our band' contest on our Facebook page, and fans sent us name suggestions. We then went over the list to find what would work for us.”

The three musicians soon discovered that settling on a name actually was very difficult.

“A name is a personal thing and something you have to live with,” explains Simmons. “But we stuck with it.”

To tell the truth, no one suggested the name Low Lily.

“But there were many suggestions with 'lily' as part of the name,” Simmons explains. “We all felt attracted to 'lily' and decided to try to find another word that would go with it. We finally decided upon Low Lily. To our delight, this turned out to be an actual New England flower, a trout lily. All and all, the process was fun for everyone involved, both funny and educational: kind of cool.”

Simmons says that since the previous incarnation of the band had already played gigs and tours, Low Lily hit the ground running.

All three members of Low Lily are masterful players with deep relationships to traditional musical styles ranging from bluegrass to Irish, Scottish, New England, and Old Time Appalachian sounds.

A graduate of Goddard College, Simmons has developed a unique vocal and guitar style that draws from her musical history in the folk and ballad traditions of Ireland, Scotland, England, and the U.S., as well as contemporary folk music. Simmons also performs with the all-women group EVA. Her singing is featured in the film “Time and Charges,” written and directed by Grammy and Emmy award winner Ernest Thompson.

Cohen studied Music at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, England, and at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. He has performed all over the world, and when he isn't touring he manages a large roster of students in his private studio in the Boston area.

Schneckenburger grew up in Maine as an active member of the folk-music community. She is a graduate of The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and, like Flynn, has played all over the world. Schneckenburger's sixth solo album, Covers, reinterprets classics by artists like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Nelly, Weezer, The Magnetic Fields, Dire Straits, and many more.

About six months ago, Low Lily released its first album. The self-titled collection brings their influences together in a collection of six songs that includes original and traditional material on three voices, guitars, mandolin, fiddle, double bass, and trombones.

Additional musicians include Corey DiMario on double bass and Simmons's father Fred on trombone. The album's first track, “House Carpenter,” debuted at the top of the Folk DJ charts, the band's second No. 1 song.

“We did really well with the album,” says Simmons. On the strength of this reception, we have done several tours, including the mid-Atlantic and midwest.”

Low Lily's music, which is completely acoustic, includes original material as well as traditional songs. “I would say that about 75 percent of what we do is new,” Simmons says.

However, the songs the trio writes never are mere imitations of traditional music.

“We have a contemporary sound that aligns nicely with traditional music,” says Simmons. “We are rather eclectic in the way we compose. For instance, Lissa wrote a song on our new EP, The Girl's Not Mine, which she calls her version of Rick Springfield's 1980s classic Jessie's Girl. So the song has a distinct pop influence, although even here there is in the center of the song a solo fiddle instrumental.

“Low Lily also performs American traditional songs, like House Carpenter, that Joan Baez dug up years ago and has become part of the folk canon. But we made our own version of that song.”

Simmons says that both she and Schneckenburger, whose parents were musicians, grew up with traditional music.

“When I was a child, my mother used to sing traditional American songs to me,” Simmons says.

By contrast, her husband discovered the music later.

“He found Irish music in his teens, and, ironically, it was when he went to school in England that he discovered bluegrass,” Simmons says. “These things just come to you.”

Simmons says traditional music is all over the place now.

“It's certainly happening in the big cities,” she says “What we do in Low Lily has grown out of the Greater Boston music scene, which is strongly Irish, Scottish and Bluegrass, and thrives in venues like Club Passim in Harvard Square in Cambridge where we play at least two times a year. We still feel part of that world. Even after we moved to Brattleboro, Flynn continues to teach once a week in the Boston area.”

Cohen and Simmons moved to Brattleboro a little over a year ago, partly because it is cheaper to raise a family here than in Boston, and partly because they have relatives nearby in Peterborough, N.H.

But the couple also say they wanted to be close to Schneckenburger, who often had told them what a great place Brattleboro was.

“Now only a half a mile down the road is Lissa, and her husband too, who sometimes plays bass with us,” Simmons says.

Though she knew the vibrant music scene in Boston had spilled over into the rest of New England, Simmons was impressed with the musical life of Southern Vermont.

“Brattleboro truly is a vibrant musical hotspot,” she says. “It has lots of traditional and roots music, contra and morris dancing, the Northern Roots festival, and sessions at the local pubs. Additionally we've found that the public schools have very strong music programs, which is incredible.

“We thought we knew all about Brattleboro before we moved here, but the place never ceases to amaze us with the quantity, and quality, of the musicians living here. We're so glad to be a part of it.”

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