Vandaveer Contrasts Murder Ballads with Humor in Showcase


Simeon Deutsch

Singer Rose Guerin (left) and singer-guitarist Mark Charles Heidinger serenade the audience gathered in the Cat in the Cream. The folk duo’s Friday night performance as Vandaveer intertwined murder ballads and lighthearted banter.

Lily Napach

Mark Charles Heidinger and Rose Guerin, known together as Vandaveer, entered the Cat in the Cream stage last Friday the fifth looking slightly frazzled. Heidinger, with his guitar in hand, surveyed the packed space, while Guerin, with a peasant blouse and a wreath of flowers in her blonde hair, took her place by one of the mics. There was a bit of fiddling on the stage, and then a quiet comment by Heidinger: “One more second. We’ll avoid calamity,” followed by, “Hello Oberlin College.”

The band, founded by singer-songwriter Heidinger and based in Washington, D.C., began performing in 2006 and has released four full-length albums. Guerin, whose voice falls somewhere between that of Stevie Nicks and Emmylou Harris, joined in 2007.

Vandaveer’s presence became palpable as the two launched into their first song. Heidinger’s mild Kentucky twang and Guerin’s powerful harmonies generated a depth and soul often unseen in folk music. The song “Dig Down Deep,” which appeared on their eponymous 2011 album, concerns the necessity of finding strength in the face of utter ruin, and is representative of Vandaveer’s forlorn yet vaguely hopeful style. Although a running theme of death and ruin is present in the majority of their songs, Heidinger and Guerin are not particularly morose or angsty; they are unassumingly funny, intelligent and charismatic. The contrast between their demeanor and the subject of their songs makes for a compelling experience. When the two began singing old murder ballads from their 2013 album, Oh Willie, Please…, Heidinger said, laughing, “There’s not a pleasant song on the record. I’m not sure why we made [the record],” epitomizing the irony. “Get yourself a Rose Guerin; you’ll go farther,” he later advised the audience. He continued with stories and funny remarks throughout the show: “My mom wanted me to be an architect.” Guerin, although slightly less talkative than her counterpart, had her humorous moments, too. At several different points during the show, she whipped out a roll of duct tape in an attempt to fix her pants, which had split along the thigh seam before she entered the stage.

It was clear from the beginning of their show that Vandaveer was not expecting to perform in front of a full house — granted, that full house was located at a coffee shop on a college campus. They had barely finished two songs before they expressed, very genuinely, their abundant gratitude toward the Oberlin community for being so gracious and kind.

“Thank you, Oberlin,” Heidinger said on a final note, “for not billing pizza over Vandaveer.”