Low Lily members from left are Liz Simmons, Natalie Padilla and Flynn Cohen. Zinnia Siegel photo

As 2023 winds down, I have three more columns for your reading pleasure beginning with my first-ever interview with Liz Simmons, guitarist/vocalist and founder of the American Roots band known as Low Lily. She is joined in this trio by her husband, Flynn Cohen, on guitar, mandolin and vocals, along with the newest member, Natalie Padilla on fiddle, banjo and vocals; together they have released their newest album “Angels in the Wreckage,” and will be coming to Portland’s One Longfellow Square on Dec. 21 with their Winter Solstice Celebration show.

I have worked with Simmons in the past but only by email, so it was nice to be able to have a voice-to-voice conversation with this talented performer. She sent up a copy of that new CD and it arrived the night before our chat on Nov. 30, which found me calling her at home in Brattleboro, Vermont … I began by complimenting her on the trio’s new album.

Q: One thing that’s been a touchstone during my entire tenure as a music journalist is vocal harmony … and you guys are a pleasure to hear.
Simmons: Oh, thank you so much.

Q: When I read the bio sheet you sent up with the CD, I discovered that one of the original members of Low Lily was Lissa Schneckenburger, a singer/songwriter violinist, with whom I’ve chatted decades ago, but her replacement, Natalie Padilla, is no slouch on both the vocals and the fiddle chores.
Simmons: She’s amazing, too, yeah.

Q: Another aspect of Natalie that surprised me was that she’s from Montana, that’s a long way from Vermont.
Simmons: (Laughter) Yes, there’s actually a really vibrant music community in Montana which I didn’t know until I met her.

Q: If memory serves me well, I believe you have performed at One Longfellow Square before, correct?
Simmons: Yes, we’ve done this holiday show there a few times various years, yeah.


Q: Could you talk about this holiday show?
Simmons: Yeah, it’s our Winter Solstice Celebration. We do a holiday tour each year and it’s been the Winter Solstice Celebration now for a few years — the last time we had Matt Flinner on mandolin playing with us; this time it’s just the trio and we have Scottish fiddler Katie McNally opening for us, and also she’ll join us for a few things, too, so that’ll be kind of fun.

Q: Now with a winter solstice show, what kind of music selection do you do for something like that?
Simmons: Well, we did find one actual solstice song and then I wrote a solstice song we sing every year; and then we try to pick material that is about finding light in the dark and things about peace and hope. This is a hard time of year for a lot of people when there’s no daylight and it’s cold, so we try to bring a little cheer in this sort of nondenominational, inclusive-for-everybody kind of way.

Q: And not only atmospherically but socially there’s a lot of dark out there.
Simmons: That’s right — that’s right, so it sort of becomes metaphorical, as well. People need something — people need hope, people need music, for sure.

Q: Oh yeah, and if it touches your heart that’s the hallmark of good music — if it moves you in some way.
Simmons: That’s right, yeah, and we all need that.

Q: Now, when did “Angels…” come out?
Simmons: That came out in April on the 21st of this year, and we did a CD release tour with a five-piece band, we brought a bassist and a drummer with us just for fun to make it a bigger show. And you can hear that there are drums on the album, so we really tried to recreate the sound of the album live, we went all over the Northeast with that tour, even out to western Pennsylvania. Then we took a lot of the summer to do other things … Natalie was teaching at fiddle camps and such. We’re really excited to come back together now for this tour.

Q: How far afield does Low Lily get?
Simmons: Actually, we’ve got some exciting plans in the works, we’ve traveled far afield in the past but it’s been a while now because of the pandemic, so we’re really excited to be going to Celtic Connections in January which is over in Glasgow, Scotland, so we’re excited to take the new album there. And then we’ve got gigs now in Indiana and California coming up this winter and spring, so we’re going out west, as well.


Q: Nice, the farther you can spread the good word, the better it is, quite frankly.
Simmons: (Laughter) Yes, that’s what I feel, too, because when we were in post-pandemic we just kind of mainly did the Northeast, we definitely have some mailing list subscribers who were like, “You never come out West!” They were like “Why, why do you only tour the Northeast?”

Q: Just out of curiosity, how many albums do you have out now?
Simmons: Well, this is our third Low Lily album. The first one was an EP that was out in 2015, and then we have another one, “10,000 Days Like These,” and that one came out in 2018. Those were both with Lissa, and this one is our first with Natalie. … We’ve got some singles out, too, on streaming platforms and such. So this is our first full-length album in five years so it’s kind of a big deal (laughter), and that’s why we made it a long one.

Q: Yeah, that’s right, it has 14 tracks. I noticed that and went, “Oh, that’s really nice!”
Simmons: We’ve never made an album that long and part of that was just like, “People have waited long enough!”

Q: You’re giving them their money’s worth, that’s for sure.
Simmons: That’s right! (Laughter)

Q: What is a show of yours like?
Simmons: Good question. Well, we really try to vary the energy and the mood and try to create an arc so that each set, we always do two sets, sculpts something that keeps the listener engaged. I think in this world of social media where everything’s very quick, quick sound bites, quick visuals, that it can be hard to retain a source of tension that keeps people engaged when they’re listening or watching something. So with our harmonies and then changing it up with fiddle tunes and if we have a quiet, more introspective song we follow it with something that lifts the mood, really just keeping the pacing there and dynamic, is always our goal.

Q: Is there anything, Liz that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Simmons: I know how hard it is to leave the house, especially when it’s cold, but my message is to just do it anyway and come to the show. We will warm them up in a different way (laughter)!


Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at luckyc@myfairpoint.net if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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