Q + A with Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine
Fanfare Cincinnati: You made your Pops debut with the very popular American Originals concert program and live recording back in 2015. What is special about collaborating with live orchestra?
Linford Detweiler: It’s incredibly exciting. There is an undeniable electricity in the air when you get 50 musicians together on one stage to lean into the harness of making something beautiful. Orchestras have been around for several hundred years now, and just the sound of an orchestra tuning before a concert stirs something deep in our cell memory, our human DNA. Both Karin and I loved music as children and ended up taking piano lessons and studying some classical music along the way. Having the opportunity to perform with an orchestra was considered the pinnacle of a burgeoning classical music career. We eventually took a different turn and decided that what made our particular hearts beat faster was songwriting. So having an opportunity to perform songs we wrote with such a fine orchestra feels like a journey that has come full circle.
FC: Your three Christmas albums show a slightly different side to the holiday season that is sometimes overlooked. What has been the inspiration behind these records?
LD: The music that surrounds the end of every year is deeply associated with our earliest, most primal musical memories. A time of year with its own music! And every songwriter must admit it: overplayed or not, some of those tunes are magnificent and timeless as falling midnight snow.
Yes, so many Christmas songs have already been written. I think we are genuinely curious about the ones that haven’t.
Karin says we’ve stumbled upon a new genre of music: Reality Christmas. I think it might be true. Both Karin and I have been called upon to lay loved ones to rest. The loss of a parent, the empty seat at the table, an ongoing illness, complicated family dynamics—none of these go away during the holidays. It’s great fun to put up the lights and wrap the presents, but the truth is the holidays are a mixed bag for many of us. At this stage of our lives, joy is often tinged with a bit of sadness. We laugh and a few tears come into our eyes. I think maybe our songs are safe containers for some of those mixed emotions.
FC: Christmas concerts at the Taft Theatre are a familiar tradition for you. What makes this venue work for this kind of program? What do you like best about the holiday season in Cincinnati/Ohio?
LD: We played our first holiday concert at the Taft in 1999, and I don’t think we’ve missed a year since! These old theaters are part of “disappearing America….” So many have been torn down, remarkable stories and histories lost forever. Christmas is a nostalgic season, and old American theaters that have survived are drenched in nostalgia. So it always feels good to return to Cincinnati in December, head downtown and see Fountain Square all lit up, see the Genius of Water glittering in the dark. Tying a bow on our working year at the Taft has very much become a tradition for us. It feels like an annual homecoming.
FC: What other projects are on the horizon?
LD: After 25 years of touring and recording, Karin and I are restoring a 140-year-old barn into a performing arts center, a place that is becoming our creative home base. We are also now hosting an annual music and arts festival on our farm every Memorial Day weekend called Nowhere Else Festival. It’s a gathering in a lovely green space beneath a big sky, about 45 miles east of Cincinnati. We hope many will come out and join us for another tradition in the making, a gathering that feels very much like an extended musical family reunion.