The Hippo


May 31, 2020








From left: Flynn Cohen, Liz Simmons and Duncan Wickel


When: Sunday, March 8, at 8 p.m. 
Where: Franklin Opera House, 316 Central St., Franklin
Admission: $20 
Also appearing: Thursday, March 6, at 8 p.m. at Portsmouth Book & Bar, 40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth

Roots and branches
Folk trio Annalivia comes to Franklin

By Michael Witthaus

 To say Liz Simmons was born to perform is an understatement. A native Californian, Simmons spent her preschool years living on the West Coast with her musician parents. The family spent time in Oregon and two years in Alaska before moving east to New Hampshire when she was 7.

They arrived amidst a burgeoning Peterborough music scene — the seminal Folkways music club was still thriving. 
“[My parents] used to drag me to the shows. … They love the community and the support for music there,” Simmons said. 
The experience left a strong impression. 
“I settled down for the second half of my childhood, but I’ve always been antsy to get on the road and see places,” she said.
Simmons studied classical voice as a teenager and Depression-era vernacular music in college and became immersed in traditional Irish music after graduation. 
“Now my passion is more old-time and Appalachian music,” she said. “I feel really connected to that world, especially when I found out that my great-great -grandmother was from the Appalachian Mountains and was a singer, quilt-maker and gardener.”
She met guitarist and future husband Flynn Cohen at a music party 10 years ago. They quickly bonded over Richard Thompson’s music; two years later, they were living together and talking about forming a band that reflected their eclectic backgrounds.  
“We wanted to explore that place where American roots and British Isles music kind of meet in the middle,” Simmons said. 
Thus, the “roots and branches” Annalivia began, named after a character in the James Joyce novel Finnegan’s Wake. Initially a quartet, the group has passed through various configurations over the years, with Simmons and Cohen its constant core. 
Frequently, they perform as a duo. 
“I think we always felt like we needed it to be this big collaboration, but as time went on, [as] we started to hone our harmony singing and our playing together, we realized that we actually had a lot going on,” said Simmons. “It’s been an empowering journey as a couple.”
Simmons spoke by telephone as the pair was in the middle of a quick run through Virginia and Florida; when they return north, Annalivia will again expand to a trio.  
“We also really love collaborating with other people, and we love the bigger sound — the fiddle and bass,” she said.
An impressive list of fiddlers has played with Annalivia. Lissa Schneckenburger is set to join in the spring, and Duncan Wickel (Red Wellies) will accompany them at three upcoming New Hampshire shows. Wickel’s background in traditional Irish music will make the March 8 date at the Franklin Opera House a memorable one, said Simmons. 
“It will be a St. Patrick’s celebration, so we will showcase more Irish stuff at that show. Duncan’s roots are in that music, and he is also an incredible bluegrass player.”
As the musical chemistry with Cohen deepened, Simmons came into her own as a songwriter. She contributed to their debut CD, Barrier Falls, and 2012’s The Same Way Down. 
“I’ve really been exploring how to write in a way I feel fits the style of traditional songs, but also bring something new in, something contemporary,” she said, noting that she’s informed by dipped-in-amber lyricists like Thompson, Gillian Welch and Mark Knopfler. 
“Plus, I grew up with all the greats — Dylan, Baez, the McGarrigles and the Grateful Dead.  I was a child of parents experiencing the folk revival, so that type of songwriting is also a big influence for me,” she said. “It is eclectic, but it feels very connected to the folksinger experience — music that is for the people, by the people.”  
As seen in the February 27, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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