An Acoustic Evening with Over the Rhine is the equivalent of a big, warm musical hug. Everything, from their chords to their consonants, was soft and rounded with nothing even resembling a pointed sound. Experimenting with what I would call a bluesy folk, and what they would dub “post-nuclear, pseudo-alternative, folk-tinged art-pop,” the night’s simple set was meditative, intimate, and mellow.
Dramatically lit in the spectacular venue that is The Barns, Over the Rhine brought a refreshing take to the December concert sound with what they called, Reality Christmas. Song such as “All I Ever Get for Christmas” and “North Pole Man” took a step back from the typical rosy glasses glow of the holidays and focused on some moments of taboo holiday tension, feeling lonely or frustrated. But the group also repeated motifs of snow as symbols of rebirth or beauty, particularly in “First Snowfall,” which brought a balance of hope.
Best known for their hits “Meet Me at the Edge of the World” and “When I Go,” the husband and wife team of Over the Rhine, Lindford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, were joined on stage by the spectacularly talented Brad Meinerding who played, I must say, an impressive assortment of guitars and harmonicas. Several of the night’s many standing ovations were as a result of the skillful shredding of whatever stringed instrument he happened to be holding at the time. All three switched between playing and singing, and never stood still as if unable to resist swaying to the infectious slow groove of the evening.
They sounded to me like what would happen if Peter, Paul, and Mary joined Sarah McLachlan to make a blues group. Bergquist’s lead vocal lilted and flipped lazily, and Meinerding’s strong tenor belt completed several neck tingling moments of tight trio harmony. In between the musical numbers they excelled at a deadpan, mater of fact comedy that would be at home around a dinner table with friends or over a drink while catching up with an old friend. Stories about their home life, quest to build a barn, and early dating escapades easily strung one smooth song to another; told mostly by Detweiler with a delivery that would have made Jeff Goldblum proud.
They took these opportunity to show us a little of their wry sense of humor. Following a declaration that they would start selling election year t-shirts stating “2016: It’s Getting Weird,” they launch into a piece titled, “If a Song Could Be President.” Lighthearted and still sincere, they played with the day-to-day reality of an audience from the DC area as they named several old time folk artists to cabinet positions and senate seats.
The balance of the set is also to be commended. With a sound as slow and relaxing as theirs, it would be easy to lull an audience, unwillingly mind you, into a contented slumber, but they successfully balanced their folk grooves with the more “up beat” (for them anyways) jazz and gospel inspired pieces. The skill with which they jumped from musical genre to musical genre was impressive. Over the Rhine is very clearly fueled by inspiration from all disciplines of music and the songs that they have been writing for over 25 years are a result of porch jam sessions and several talented friends.
For me, a favorite moment was in the instrumental break of a particularly contemplative number, “Let it Fall,” where I could have sworn all three of them had their eyes shut while playing. Just taking in the words they were saying, notes they were playing. That level of connection to the pieces is something that I find to be invaluable to live music concerts. You see into the passion that drives them to do the difficult thing that they do.
An Acoustic Evening with Over the Rhine, was solidly entertaining and filled with serious chill and non-resolving final chords. While I do wish they had taken more time to introduce or at least name the songs they performed, I woke up today humming different refrains while starting my day. So you’re ever in the need for heartfelt melding of songs, styles, and voices, consider Over the Rhine, and if at all possible, in the perfect venue of The Barns at Wolf Trap.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.
An Acoustic Evening with Over the Rhine was performed played for one night only on December 4, 2015 at The Barns at Wolf Trap – 1635 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For future performances and information: call (877) 965-3872, or check out Wolf Trap’s calendar of events.