By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
The house owned by blueswoman Mary Flower looks like it could belong to practically any young musician. The living-room walls are adorned with onstage photos of Flower and her musical heroes, along with a small collection of oddball and cheapo guitars; the bedroom contains more axes--a steel-bodied National Tricone and a Gibson acoustic, to be specific--plus additional music-oriented snapshots and a tweed Fender amp; and the bathroom sports a guitar-shaped toilet seat and a handful of finger picks resting on the edge of the sink. In short, the abode would be ideal for a twenty-something bohemian with musical leanings--and Flower says it's perfect for her, too, even though she's a single mother of two twenty-something children who is just months away from celebrating her fiftieth birthday.
"Before my kids moved out a few years ago, the place looked a lot different," she admits. "But I just decided, 'Heck with it. I'm going to do the place like I want it.' I did the family thing and the house thing, and I didn't want any of that anymore. So I went back to the way it was when I was a kid."
Flower has carried out a similar remodeling job on her life: At an age when many of her peers are dreaming of grandchildren and spending their free time toiling in the backyard garden, she's returned to her pre-motherhood lifestyle. A fixture on the Denver music scene for more than a quarter of a century, she now spends six months a year on the highway, bringing her music to fans across the nation--and her efforts are paying off nicely. This year alone, Flower has signed a contract with Massachusetts-based Time & Strike Records to cut a new CD; performed live on a broadcast of the National Public Radio staple Prairie Home Companion; dazzled the competition at this summer's National Fingerpicking Championships in Winfield, Kansas; and filled a slew of slots at some of the country's more revered blues festivals, including October's esteemed King Biscuit festival in Helena, Arkansas. In the process, she's played alongside an A-list of steel-string pros, including John Hammond, Junior Brown, Taj Mahal, Geoff Muldaur and many more.
"My career really has skyrocketed in terms of doing gigs that I had only dreamed of doing in the past," Flower says. "It's been great, and I've had a really successful year--not so much monetarily, but in terms of gigs to die for. And each year it gets a little better. But you always feel like you're working your tail off and you're never quite where you want to be. And coming home is what I call the universal post-touring syndrome--that real hard adjustment from traveling and having incredible things happen to you to being back home, taking out the garbage."
Prior to the Nineties, Flower was doing more of the latter than the former, but that was by choice. A native of Bloomington, Indiana, she arrived in Denver in the early Seventies following a stint in Breckenridge, where she'd performed as half of an acoustic duo that wintered in Summit County. After a visit to the Denver Folklore Center (then on 17th Street in Capitol Hill), she chose to stay in the area, and she quickly became a regular at coffeehouses and clubs, supplementing her income with teaching slots at the Folklore Center. She also toured on the national coffeehouse circuit with Katy Moffatt, a singer-songwriter now on Hightone Records.
Along the way, Flower helped found the Mother Folkers, the ever-popular revolving-door band of Front Range women who've entertained locals since 1973. (Flower left the group in 1993 to pursue her current solo career.) She also got married and gave birth to a daughter, Hannah, and a son, Jesse. Her subsequent divorce made it even more important to her that she give her children a stable environment in which to grow up--and she did. Before she agreed to a gig, she made certain that she wouldn't have to go far to play it.
During this stretch, Flower narrowed her musical focus, evolving from a singer-songwriter with a foot in the blues to a dyed-in-indigo artist with a knack for keenly written folk laments of her own. Confirmation that she'd made the right choice came in 1993, while she was attending a workshop at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, West Virginia. After hearing her play, "the people on staff there told me, 'You need to get out there. You're good. You need to make CDs and get out on the road and get the ball rolling,'" Flower remembers. "That made me realize that I had something valuable, and it gave me a little push. And about that time, my kids were in their later years in high school, and I could see the road opening up in front of my eyes. Once my kids were out of the house, I realized there was nothing keeping me here. It was time to get my career back."
The opportunity to achieve a long-held musical dream was only one factor that motivated Flower; the fear of an empty nest played a part, too. "I think I was avoiding the withdrawal that a lot of parents go through," she says. "I didn't want to stay home and be miserable with my kids gone, so, by God, I was going to leave, too. But it felt good to be back on the road--to take my stuff and just jump in my car and see places that I've never been before and to be independent. I loved it. I loved it!"