Award-winning guitarist Mary Flower performs intimate set at the Downtown Artery

Jonny Rhein

Piedmont-based guitarist Mary Flower played an intimate solo show at Downtown Artery Friday night. 

Mary Flower playing lap slide guitar sitting in a chair.
Mary Flower plays the lap slide guitar. (Jonny Rhein | Collegian)

The audience sat completely still while Flower awed them with her unique guitar playing. Her songs are driven by quick, complex chord changes and bass notes pulsing around a perfectly woven blues melody. Her precision kept her eyes from straying too far from her guitar.

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A good amount of Flower’s set was instrumental tunes. Although there were no words, the music spoke for itself. She said her instrumental songs are her best work.

“It wasn’t until the last twenty years that I started writing instrumentals, which I think is the best thing I do,” Flower said.

Many of the instrumental songs Flower played were preparation for her upcoming fingerpicking competition, one of which she had never played for an audience before.

Flower’s played “Can’t Take It with You,” a dark tune about having to leave your belongings behind when you go to the “great mansion in the sky.” She facetiously dedicated the song to the elderly audience members.

“This is the right demographic for the song I’m about to do here,” Flower said. 

Flower is regarded as a blues musician, but she does not want to be limited to only that.

“I get classified at home as a blues person,” Flower said. “I get awards from our blues society, like the best acoustic guitar player, but I’m so wider than that. I like the instrumentals that aren’t blues. I can play a whole night of blues, but when I do this, I just want to be as well-rounded as I can. I don’t like to be pegged. I just like to think that good music is good music.”

After spending the years playing with many duos, trios and her band from her home of Portland, Oregon, The BBQ Boys, Flower decided to put out solo records.

“I’ve done everything else,” Flower said. “I just thought it was time. A lot of people, when they buy CDs, the question is, ‘which CDs have the least people on them?’ and I thought I should do a solo CD because that’s what they really want to hear.”

Ellen Audley, a journalism major at Colorado State University, goes back to the 70s with Flower. They were members of The Mother Folkers, a band started by Flower while she was living in Denver.

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“Mary is a giant, Audley said. “Mary takes all this stuff that she thoroughly knows the roots of like rock n’ roll and all the different blues styles like Delta blues, Memphis, Rosetta Tharpe, all the male blues musicians, and somehow she wraps all of it into her music in a way that’s totally her own and is very technically brilliant, but also very original with rock solid rhythm. She plays with a lot of syncopation which can be unusual in the blues.”

Kyle James Hauser, programs coordinator at The Music District, had only good things to say about Flower’s set.

“It’s a rare treat no matter where you are to hear a fingerpicking blues artist of Mary’s caliber,” Hauser said. “It’s one of my all-time favorite styles. To hear that music in a live setting is something that, as a touring musician up until I moved to Fort Collins, is quite literally a rare treat.”

Mary Flower will be teaching guitar camps in Estes Park Sept 1-4 as part of the American Roots Music Program.

Collegian reporter Jonny Rhein can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @jonnyrhein.