Letters

January 4, 2006

OVER THE RHINE
P.O. Box 12078
Cincinnati, OH 45212

January 4, 2006

Rambling Tour Diary – And a Glimpse of 2006

Once again, Hello from Nowhere Farm,

Happy New Year.

The quilted earth is asleep out here, steeped in winter moisture beneath a soft gray sky.

We wanted to send some words your way to thank you all once again for making our December tour better than we could have imagined. Where do we begin?

Karin and I were up at 5:30am at the farm on day one, surrounded by snowy fields. Beautiful sunrise snuck up on us as we packed the suitcases and guitars and headed to Cincinnati where we met Rick and Devon and Kim as well as our fine crew: Brandon, Dave and Ryan. Goodbyes to family members and friends. Hugs all around.

And we’re off.

It was snowing in Akron when we arrived, but the Lime Spider was all abuzz as we tried out new songs for the first time. There was a skating rink across the road with real after dark skaters. Folks from Germany had set up a semi-circle of tents and were selling their crafts and passing out hot mulled wine. The whole evening could have taken place in one of those little snow globes we used to shake up as children. It was all true: We were on the road at Christmas time.

Ann Arbor was as festive as ever. The shops around the club were all staying open till midnight and from note one it felt as if the sold-out crowd at The Ark was ready to hop aboard some imaginary train. Once again we were surprised by how the unique electricity of an audience has so much to do with the way the music feels, and our evening in Ann Arbor was truly a highlight of the tour. Thanks to all of you who shared that night with us.

On to two sold-out shows at one of our new favorite venues in America: The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. This 400-seat theater is one of the most intimate we’ve found and is run mostly by dedicated volunteers. The folks at Old Town had a grand piano waiting for us on stage, and welcomed us with open arms to one of America’s great music towns. Hard to imagine a better way to spend a Saturday night…

We made the trek to Des Moines through the bitter cold and reminisced about our trip to Iowa in a blizzard years earlier to open for Bob Dylan. This time around we had no idea what to expect at Vaudeville Mews on a Sunday night with below zero temperatures. The venue was packed with folks from not only frozen Iowa, but a smattering of surrounding states as well. Wow. There they all were, bundled up stylishly, ready for something good. And yes, at least one person said they had seen us at that Bob Dylan show in Ames years ago, and had kept an ear out for the music ever since.

During the show in Des Moines there was a couple standing right in front of the stage that would occasionally lean into each other while the music got itself made. I offer them this scribbled snapshot:

Everybody Is Sick Of Love

Except for the girl dancing slowly
Folded in the arms
Of her gentle boy
Her eyes closed in precious disbelief.

So I am watching the joy on her face,
You have never seen such pure peace and delight,
Because if you had,
Your eyes would have been closed too.

(Or maybe you have seen.)

But thanks to her,
This broken world was briefly mended
For one fleet night before it ended.

***

A lovely listener whisked us off to her specialty cheesecake restaurant in the morning for brunch and spoiled us all with a table full of fine food that had been (in the words of my mother) “made with love” and it was like sharing a family meal together. Our sound engineer, Dave Foreman, had celebrated his 50th birthday on the road in Des Moines, so the timing couldn’t have been better. (Dave’s nickname is TDJ: Too Damn Juicy. Once you get to know him, you can just call him Too Damn, for short.)

Dave has toured with quite an impressive number of influential American musicians and songwriters, and he is fond of commenting that he has never seen a community of fans who were so open, who wanted to connect with the music and each other so deeply. Dave says songs are prayers we’ve been given for when our wounds are too deep to speak. He really believes that the connections made through music (and prayer) are what holds this ol’ universe together. He really loves being around all y’all and wanted you to know.

After brunch, we drove North to Minneapolis from Des Moines and the temperature dropped with every mile and the thermometer was empty by the time we arrived – the mercury had disintegrated. But the Fine Line filled up with warm bodies, and we lived that longed-for sensation of coming in out of the cold to a clean, well-lighted place where music was going to sweep us away somewhere hopefully unimagined. We got to share a quick supper with some new friends – Doug Pagitt and his wife. We talked about holistic medicine and food and adopted families and…

And then it was on to Madison where I got to reconnect with an old friend, a painter that we met at an Irish Pub in Dubuque years ago. Tom and I went out for a Thai meal together and ordered the five course feast (Surprise us!) and talked of all the things we cared most about, our families, our life’s work, where we were now and where we longed to be, the many good things we’d been given so far. Tom Metcalf is an American Artist bursting at the seams with energy and ideas, and he has the facility of a fine Renaissance Painter. It’s all beautifully contagious. After the concert we smoked our aromatic cigars and lifted our glasses and Tom’s not worried that he has to be in front of his college art students in the morning back in Dubuque because they need to feel this coming from him – his willingness to be up all night staying keen, wrapping his arms around the gift of being alive.

Then we knew it was going to start snowing, and we had to drive to Indianapolis, and we grabbed our coffees and green teas in the morning and made ghosts with our breath. If we’re not traveling on a bus, I promised Karin long ago I would always drive if we ever got into bad weather on tour since I grew up for some years in Montana and went to school in Alberta and then my parents did some time in Northern Minnesota and I know all about driving in the snow. And after school in Alberta I worked for a Mennonite farmer and the cows were so calm as they streamed into the barn and calmly found their assigned stanchions. And every evening after school I backed a trailer about 150 feet through a narrow passageway to where the silage was stored. Little did I know that starting a band one day would involve backing a trailer which to my surprise I realized I knew how to do virtually in my sleep. One wonders from time to time if everything that happens is preparing us for something later in life.

So we studied the atlas and decided to bypass Chicago and I drove the nine hours to Indianapolis with snow falling heavily almost all the way. And we pulled up to the hotel and it was laughter and gladness all around, we’d made it, we were alive, and there was still time to get a warm dinner. And Devon got to pile off for a night or two in his own bed.

And we had a good crowd at The Music Mill, but some nights it’s impossible for us to tell whether an audience is really tuned in or not, it’s almost as if there is a veil between the audience and the stage, and we’re trying to rip it open, but we can’t seem to break through. But from what we could tell in the end, the music was getting through, we just weren’t sure at first.

In Columbus, we were sure, because Little Brothers, although the quintessential dive, was packed and the crowd was wound up tight ready to burst, standing shoulder to shoulder right in front of the stage and shouting out little tidbits of encouragement, and we remembered what that felt like.

So then it was home to the farm for a few days to celebrate Karin’s birthday which we did and then of all the possible developments, we lost Karin’s voice there for a spell and thought we were going to have to explain to a few thousand people that our hometown concert was going to have to be rescheduled due to a singer with no sing. But a couple of trips to the doctor and a specialist here and a referral there and some prayer for help tossed into the mix and bless her heart she got it back just a little at a time and got through the night and it felt like the best Taft Show yet. And holy smokes this audience of ours: replaces stolen guitars for us, shows up with 26 dozen white roses for Karin, and converges on this historic theater to pack it to the rafters. And in fact, as we travel from town to town, we are humbled by little gift baskets of goodies left on stage, the occasional bottle of wine, a carefully selected book with a personal inscription, handwritten notes, tiny surprises slipped to us again and again as if to say, Keep it up. You’re not alone. We’ve found each other. In some mysterious way, this all matters.

Thank you.

And thanks to Amy Rigby for joining us on this special night. And thanks to Kim Taylor for an amazing year – for all that singing and for the laughter. We made it and covered a lot of good miles together. From the departure point of a few Grey Ghost rehearsals, we found our way to both oceans, saw some coastal Redwoods, played Manhattan twice, poked around Florida, and ended up in front of that amazing crowd at The Taft none the worse for the wear. Not bad.

And then for a little something extra Karin and I had offered an invitation to gather at St. Elizabeth’s in Norwood the day after the Taft. And Ryan cleaned that ragged old cathedral, and Krystal decorated, and Drew and Wendy took care of the food and wine, and Jody helped us with the coffee, and Brandon and Dave made everything else go, and we actually threw a little party. Some words, some music, some conversation. It was really great to connect with those of you who could make it. This is something we’d like to start doing at the end of every year.

We finished out the year in Nashville and were delighted when Buddy Miller hopped up on stage and sat in with us at the end of our set. We’d love to do some dates together with him sometime. He and Julie are special folks. Thanks to all of you who made the effort to join us for this rescheduled date. Sorry once again about the change in plans. And it was awful nice to see Dave Perkins (our partner in crime when we recorded Films For Radio) and his sons Max and Jack – have a little sit down at Fido. And to check in with our occasional side-kick Wade Jaynes.

A lot of memories, and a lot of music…

So, if you were there and want a little keepsake, or if you weren’t able to join us and want to get a little taste of what you missed, it’s not too late to order the commemorative, limited edition CD that we’re putting together. It’s always an adventure to try to bottle live performances, but we think you’ll enjoy this document of a tour that brought to a close a great year. (Check out overtherhine.com.) Thanks again to Rick and Devon for their inspiring musicianship and friendship. It was a lot of fun to hear how the songs on Drunkard’s Prayer blossomed on the road. Thanks again to Brandon and the rest of the crew for helping make it all happen.

We’re going to lay low now for a couple of months to write and recover. We’ll start the year officially in March with a couple of “firsts” for Over the Rhine: Our first tour of New Zealand as a band, and our first-ever appearances at SXSW in Austin. More on all this soon…

(Oh, and I guess there will be a couple of small appearances in February. Just a teaser or two.)

Another first in 2006: Karin and I will be leading our first songwriting workshop in Santa Fe the first week of August. (The Glen Workshop is hosted every year by Image Journal at St. John’s College.) So if you know of a budding, aspiring songwriter who might want to join us, or if you’re just someone who loves music who wants to observe, keep us in mind. It’s a stunning setting, and a great group of people. More details on this soon as well.

Finally, thanks to those of you who signed up at the shows to sponsor a child through World Vision. If you’re interested in helping us meet our goal of getting 200 kids sponsored through the Over the Rhine community, please e-mail OTRhine@aol.com. Please note, all of you who e-mailed before the tour or during the tour, I had those e-mails in a folder that I was planning on responding to when things got a little quieter. Alas, the folder is gone. PLEASE E-MAIL AGAIN and I will respond with a personal note of thanks and get your e-mail forwarded to the right person. Again, for the equivalent of a couple of CD’s a month ($30) we can provide clean water, a support structure and an education for a child directly effected by the AIDS crisis in Africa. Please join us.

We wish you all the best in this coming year.

Peace,

Linford for Over the Rhine

PS Happy significant birthday to Bill today!
PPS I’ve heard rumors that Karin is working on a post-tour letter as well. Don’t say we never write…