Over the Rhine: Rooted in Heart, Wild at the Edges in Berkeley
Over the Rhine’s double album, Meet Me at the Edge of the World has been on my most-played playlist since it was released in 2013, so I was anticipating that their sold-out show at The Freight & Salvage would be excellent. Such high expectations can be a setup for any concertgoer, let alone reviewer. However, in this instance, their performance not only met my expectations, it was the most spine-tingling live show I’ve seen and heard in recent memory. Within seconds of opening their mouths to harmonize on the CD’s title track, the Ohio-based husband and wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, along with Brad Meinderding on guitar, mandolin and harmonica, had hallowed the already storied Freight stage.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the air was so instantly divinated: Detweiler is the son of an Amish minister who grew up reading the King James Bible, and Bergquist sings with an old-soul voice that is equal parts Emmylou Harris and Janis Joplin. For most of their respective lifetimes, 25 years as a musical duo, Over the Rhine has made creating music both their practice and their livelihood. Their steadfast commitment to each other and their craft has resulted in more than 20 live and studio albums (with and without label support), and deservedly garnered the duo a devoted fan base. “If it wasn’t for you,” Detweiler said in thanks to the appreciative crowd, “we’d be homeless.”
Home, family, and sustained and committed love are the altars at which Over the Rhine’s music pays worship. For the past 10 years, Detweiler and Bergquist have based their non-touring life on Nowhere Farm in rural Ohio, and the landscape they inhabit permeates every cell of their music. “My dad gave us a piece of advice when we moved,” Linford shared, “To keep the edges wild” so the native birds would have a place, too. The line shows up all over Meet Me at the Edge of the World, and figuratively informs their live show. The result is a unique musical ecology, sprung from their heartland roots and imbued with elements of jazz, classical, rock and gospel, as much as straight-ahead folk.
Meinderding limned the 17-song (including an encore) set — mostly taken from the Meet Me album as well as Over the Rhine’s equally excellent Christmas offering Blood Oranges in the Snow (2014) — with masterful, tasteful and rollicking fills and solos. Detweiler moved easily from rhythm guitar to grand piano, rendering the already elegiac song “Let It Fall” transcendent. Bergquist inspired another round of chills, digging that much deeper into “Born,” from the album Drunkard’s Prayer (2005).
“When you find your little dream / Costs you everything / I hope your broken bluebird heart still sings,” Bergquist sings on “Earthbound Love Song,” a tune which pretty much spells out Over the Rhine’s mission and credo. Fortunately for everyone, their investments have yielded such rich dividends.
The duo is committed to paying their musical fortune even further forward. They recently bought a 140-year-old barn near their home that they intend to turn into a music venue. “We’ll keep coming to you,” Bergquist said in invitation to the crowd to come their barn-raising, “But we hope you’ll come to us.” If the standing ovation at the end of the night was any indication, their hopes will soon be realized.
To help raise Over the Rhine’s farm, go here.