June 11, 2011
P.O. Box 12078
Cincinnati, OH 45212
Dear extended musical family,
Well, after 20-some-odd years in the music business,
touring in the USA and abroad,
performing on radio stations,
the occasional tv show,
on moving trains,
on a ship at sea,
headlining our own Over the Rhine shows,
supporting more well-known artists on the road,
being on and off record labels,
running our own label along the way at various points,
working with publishers and distributors large or small
while all the while remaining fiercely independent of spirit-
One begins to feel as if one has seen it all.
But if I know only one thing for sure this morning here on Nowhere Farm:
We have not seen it all.
Take our Friday evening show at Canal Street Tavern a few weeks ago. Into this storied listening room in Dayton (if you had a good arm you could throw a baseball into the nearby minor league ball park) we have brought our suitcases full of songs old and new over the course of much of our career, to offer them in a space that feels like our living room away from home.
It’s not a big place, so people arrive early before doors open and take their place on the sidewalk with their books to read, or a box of chocolate chip cookies from a favorite recipe to share, and the line grows down the block, and it feels a bit like vanishing America, people standing around on a sidewalk trading war stories, laughing, cells vibrating a bit in the context of a group of human beings leaning together in the same direction, flesh and blood.
But then shortly after the doors opened two ducks arrived and got in line. A male and a female mallard…
Allow me to repeat that: TWO DUCKS.
I didn’t see any of this and I didn’t dream any of it – it was reported to me by multiple witnesses. The female duck seemed to be in charge (?!) and when doors opened she walked up the steps to enter the venue beckoning to the somewhat skeptical male to follow. It was as if she wanted to buy a ticket. She may as well have been smoking a cigarette.
A duck walks into a bar…
Apparently, several concerned concert-goers ran to their cars to retrieve food for the temporarily earthbound water fowl in case they were hungry. They were ambivalent, but seemed intent on seeing the show. When no one provided them with paper tickets, they milled around for awhile, and eventually left.
I heard multiple accounts of this story because much earlier that day in the state of New York, our friend Keith had purchased us a celebratory bottle of wine in anticipation of the unfolding evening. He had asked the wine shop owner to recommend something good and he had. The wine, a big California blend, 2007 vintage, of 72% Zinfandel, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc is called Paraduxx. The label looks like a beautiful old postage stamp. It’s printed on uncoated paper and has a painting of two ducks on it: hooded mergansers to be exact. When Keith handed us the bottle after the show, the previous story came out (as if being uncorked) from several bystanders, and was confirmed by the ticket takers and merch sales people in the entrance of the venue.
Apparently everyone knew about it except me.
If you can help us with any of the symbolism here, please write to us at:
(Karin requests photographs, as well, please.)
As a writer, I know there’s something here. But I do not know what. I would have to write to find out.
We have not seen everything.
I’ve realized often that when it comes to wine, or coffee, or the occasional enjoyment of a fine cigar (the tobacco thereof grown in the light of some island sun) I’m drawn to blends. I’d like to think that the music of Over the Rhine is a blend, different strains of American music (gospel, country & western, rock & roll, old hymns, scratchy jazz 78’s) being poured together like wine through the ache of a heart to bleed something beautiful into the veins of the world.
I won’t lie to you. There are certainly moments on the road when exhaustion sets in.
(We’ve noticed that hotel rooms are increasingly becoming toxic environments – it seems to be getting worse – rooms designed without the possibility of opening a window – chemical cleaners – chemicals used to prevent bedbug breakouts – new carpets off-gassing into a closed system – central air conditioning units that become moldy – it all takes a toll on a respiratory system.)
(Flying on an airplane has hit an all-time low in the enjoyment and comfort department. It used to be kind of special to get on an airplane. The good news is it has gotten so laughably uncomfortable to travel by air, that it has to begin improving in the very near future. I think we’ve hit bottom.)
And there is a lot of uncertainty that goes along with trying to offer the world something beautiful for a living. I cannot imagine what picking up a check every two weeks would feel like. In the last 20 years, it has been all over the map. Truly an adventure, but thank God I married a woman with a high tolerance for risk. We live life without a safety net. We discover we are survivors.
But I do have the following spiritual exercise handed to me often. Whenever I begin to feel that my life is particularly difficult, I can open the mail.
I can read about the father holding the hand of his son who just passed away from cancer at 3:30am, thanking us for signing that CD that they listened to, for the exchange of a few notes. Miraculously, it meant something, provided some small sacrament of comfort.
I can read about the 19-year-old girl that stumbled into a tent on a pig farm with friends to discover us playing on a stage after midnight. How (she continues) she felt something she could not name beckoning her, 19-years-old, pregnant, scared, overwhelmed. How she picked up a CD (Good Dog Bad Dog) and went home and pointed the speakers at her growing stomach, over weeks and months and especially played the song The Seahorse to the unseen baby that she gave up for adoption, and how that song still connects her to that child. Now she’s in her thirties, and after a journey of counseling and healing, she’s married and expecting again, and this time she’s going to keep the baby, and the music is still playing.
And I can hear a voice saying:
You’ve never lost a child
You’ve never been asked to leave loved ones behind and go to Iraq or Afghanistan
armed to the teeth
You’ve never faced a life-threatening illness
You’ve never missed a meal
You’ve never slept in the rain
My life is not that hard.
(My sister reminded me, laughing, that actually we did miss a few meals as kids and did sleep in the rain, but as far as the rain, I think it was just the one time… I suspect we’ll get into all that someday in our respective memoirs.)
I picked up Karin yesterday evening at the airport. She had been doing more recording at The Garfield House in South Pasadena (with friend and brother Joe Henry). We stopped at a favorite café on the way to the farm and traded stories and laughed and the wine flowed, and we had so much to talk about (and laugh about) just being apart a few days that I was wondering if people thought that we were caught up in some new romance. I hope we didn’t turn too many heads.
Life continues to be a mixture of joy and sorrow and laughter and pain and small victories that offer cause for celebration.
Thank God for music.
We are taking the six-piece band out on the road for a few potentially unforgettable summer evenings. We are going to swing for the fences. We are going to put the songs right into your wheelhouse. Drink some sweet tea. (Ducks optional.)
We are bringing along our friend and compatriot, Lucy Wainwright Roche, a girl with a quiver full of stories and songs of her own that need to be shared.
PASTE PRESENTS OVER THE RHINE IN CONCERT,
with special guest Lucy Wainwright Roche*
(THIS) THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 2011, CHARLOTTE, NC, VISULITE THEATER*
FRIDAY, JUNE 17, ATLANTA, GA, VARIETY PLAYHOUSE*
SATURDAY, JUNE 18, ASHEVILLE, NC, THE ORANGE PEEL*
FRIDAY, JUNE 24, SHAKORI HILLS, NC, WILD GOOSE FESTIVAL (OtR 9pm)
THURSDAY, JULY 7, AKRON, OH, STAN HYWET HALL AND GARDENS
CONVERSATIONS ON A MUSICAL TRAIN:
Don’t forget about our train ride, September 22-29. Join us with special guests Mary Gauthier, Richard Shindell, Michael Wilson and more, for music, hot springs, mountains and trains – the week of a lifetime. Overtherhine.com for details.
More to come.
Peace like a river, love like an ocean,
Linford and Karin of Over the Rhine
ps Please share the above freely. Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers, you’re welcome. You can stay right here. You don’t have to go.