Article published here: https://www.volunteerparkconservatory.org/news/valentines-day-concert
When we arrived at the Conservatory, the greenhouse was lit with an inviting and gentle glow, a guiding light in the midst of a cloudy Seattle evening. As we entered the glass frame, our senses opened to the warm, tropical atmosphere where the calatheas dozed and the orchids whispered to one another. We were among an international bouquet of natural wonders, from Brazil to Africa.
Couples lounged in the fern room on a bench below a staghorn fern. Nearby, a fountain was disguised as a mossy rock, imitating the natural environment of the plants and providing a comfortable humidity to the room. Pitcher plants surrounded the fountain like decorative ornaments, waiting for curious insects to get too close. Voices echoed and hushed. Couples of all ages were there to celebrate Valentines Day, flirting quietly, as if they would wake a tiger hiding in the lush growth.
Wandering through another archway, we entered a room that was a tangle of air plants, or tillandsias to be more precise. Little descriptions of the plants told us they were from the pineapple family, which made us chuckle loud enough to break the quietude surrounding us. Hibiscus flowers were in full bloom, sitting on the southern side of the room, spreading their delicious scent out amongst the bromeliads. A table of drink choices was set up on the north side of the room, but I was thoroughly distracted by the hanging flowers and the geometric beauty of the succulents nearby.
As we strolled back through the fern room, we spotted a snack table and snapped up a few grapes and cheeses just as the first sounds of singing drifted towards us. We made our way back through the tropical paradise and into a room set with chairs, delicate lighting, and surrounded by plant life. An acapella group of four gentlemen was crooning “My Wild Irish Rose,” which was an absolutely perfect choice for the setting and the holiday. Once their final sustained note of the song settled over the audience, nearly everyone had made their way from their romantic nooks amongst the plants to watch the concert. Dressed in crisp, black suits with blue vests, they introduced themselves as the Seattle SeaChordsmen and shared a little story with us about their “Valentines Day Package” among which were two more classic love songs, “1927 Kansas City” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”
Sub Rosa was introduced as the genius behind the intimate Valentines Day Concert and then a guitarist who went by Byland took the stage shortly after the SeaChorsdmen. She sang, hummed, and strummed for us about growing up in Albuquerque and her own romantic relationship. Between songs, she shared stories with us about how each of them came to be. Everyone couldn’t help but laugh when she told us the song “Stiff” was about her husband. The theme of her songs kept coming back to family, home, and love. When Byland’s set closed, Sub Rosa stepped up and introduced an intermission. The audience got up to stretch their legs and many went wandering back through the greenhouse again.
I took the time to notice the old fashioned lamp posts providing a firelight flicker and the string of lights along the edges of the room. Colorful flowering displays with splashes of tropical leaves and woody cane plants covered the walls. Behind the stage was the door to the cactus room that the performers were using as a green room, which was all too appropriate. In the front corners of the room were tables set up, one with water and one with records from the headlining performer, Arum Rae. I was delighted to see that the plastic covering on the records reflected the flowers encircling the table. Couples chatted and flirted under the leaves of sheltering ficus trees all around the room.
Slowly the soundscape changed from chatter and flirtation back to an attentive audience as Arum Rae took the stage, backlit by a wash of color. The acoustics of the greenhouse lulled us into the melodies and blues of her songs amongst the warm air and lush plant life. Hushed by the horticultural backdrop, we listened to her songs of love and loss and longing. When the last strums of her guitar echoed and pulsed through the audience, I felt sad that soon the ambience would break and we would all slowly find ourselves brought out of this dreamscape to our regular lives. I kissed my partner beneath the ficus tree and whispered, “I simply love this place!”