From the Appalachian Mountains to the Midwest: William and the Wildflowers performs at Yacht Club

Solo artist William and the Wildflowers, a UI alum, performed in Iowa City after trekking along the East Coast.


Raquele Decker

William and The Wildflowers perform at the Yacht Club downtown on Tuesday, October 1, 2019.

Madison Lotenschtein, Arts Reporter

Warmth filled Yacht Club’s dimly lit, chilly basement from the acoustic ambience of solo artist and University of Iowa alum William Schmitt, also known as William and the Wildflowers. 

Propped up on an old suitcase, — a makeshift bass drum — Schmitt wore a floppy hat, checkered shorts, and a state of Vermont T-shirt as he opened for musicians Ariana Hodes and Joe Sorensen on Tuesday night. Schmitt played songs from his past albums and a couple of songs from his third and latest album, Ephemeral Parade, which he described as an ethereal folk-punk genre. 

Twenty years ago, the musician began his own punk-rock band during high school in rural Iowa. The group toured for 10 years, until Schmitt decided it was time to take a different path. Ten years after starting his band, Schmitt toured as a solo artist, though not consistently. 

“I’ve been doing the solo artist thing for almost 10 years,” Schmitt said. “So, it hasn’t been [a] constant push … to be a rock star or anything. Every couple of years, life gives me the opportunity to hit the road and play some shows.” 

After quitting a corporate job and taking an offer at a wilderness therapy school in Vermont, Schmitt moved to the East Coast, taking his musical abilities with him. Eight months later, the traveling musician ventured to North Carolina, where he completed a series of backpacking trips, including the famous Appalachian Trail, and, later on, the Pacific Crest Trail. 

“I was there, I was at a lot of places. It was kind of my hub,” he said. “And then late last year, I just thought I wanted to be closer to family, so I moved back home.” 

Now back in Iowa City, Schmitt works at High Ground Café while touring the Midwest. While strumming his acoustic guitar, singing, and occasionally whistling, Schmitt radiates the ethereal vibe he described. 

“I would describe my sound as dreamy, maybe a little whimsical at times,” Schmitt said. “But punk rock to me means … a discerning eye towards the development of humanity.” 

Though much of his lyrics are uplifting and positive, Schmitt reflects his punk-rock past with lyrics that critique society. One line of a song stood out, saying, “I trust my fellow man, but I don’t trust my society.” 

With his acoustic guitar and mountain-hiking past, Schmitt’s songs also leaned toward the folk genre, but he said folk music can mean two different things. 

“It can be these old songs but also can be new songs,” Schmitt said.

Several of his songs were written while living in the Blue Ridge, Appalachian, and Green Mountains of the East Coast. “Flint and Steel” and “Big Heavy World” are just a few folk-like songs to name that Schmitt wrote during his years on the East Coast. Schmitt wrote “Big Heavy World” for the kids he worked with in Vermont.

When writing his songs, Schmitt typically writes about his emotions, childhood memories, or living far from home. 

“For Ephemeral, it’s kind of like a grief process for me because I lost my sister to suicide in 2016,” he said. “It’s all sort of a reflection on how short life is.” 

Despite his loss, Schmitt sang with compassion on stage, putting on a foot-tapping, mood-lightening performance — even though he said he has a history of shyness. 

“One of the great things about performing is that it’s kind of a one way communication,” Schmitt said. “I think that introverted people tend to find ways to perform.”

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