Over The Rhine

Recap: Nowhere Else Festival (May 27-29, Nowhere Farm, OH)

IMG_7597I half-joked this morning to my good friend Josh Hurst that Nowhere Else Fest might better be described as a backyard barbecue that got a little out of hand, rather than a music festival in any familiar sense of the term.  Perhaps more generally, one might just call it a celebration of community.

To longtime Over The Rhine fans, particularly those based in and around the band’s home base of southwest Ohio, this community is quite tangible.  As Nowhere Farm and adjacent Nowhere Else continue to take shape, OtR have given this community – along with their loyal brothers and sisters, dispersed throughout the world – a place to gather, eat, drink, listen, converse, sing, dance and celebrate.  This year marked the first time that Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler expanded the scope of this gathering to include many of their friends, who happen also to be some of the most extraordinary artists in the world.

Among this community, I am a bit late to the game, having been a fan for only about half of their quarter century career.  But I was very much a supporter long before their paths crossed that of Joe Henry.  It was a thrill for me when they sought him out to produce The Long Surrender (and re-enlisted him for the follow-up Meet Me At The Edge Of The World), but it has been incredibly gratifying to witness the bond that they have forged in the past few years.  There were many connected dots at Nowhere Else Fest, and many of those connections could be traced back to Joe Henry as much as Over The Rhine.

I am not being coy when I tell you that a thorough daily breakdown would be far too daunting (and potentially boring) to undertake here.  The festival essentially began Friday night with a VIP event that included food, drink and an insanely intimate performance by OtR.  They were, as they were all weekend, joined by The Band Of Sweethearts, which includes Jay Bellerose on drums, Brad Meinerding on guitars, Eric Heywood on pedal steel and Jennifer Condos on bass.  Many of these astounding musicians pulled double-duty by joining The Comet Bluegrass All-Stars (in Brad’s case) and Joe Henry (in Eric, Jen and Jay’s case).  The festival-proper kicked off, bright and early, around 10am on Saturday with a number of events, which included a seminar with master photographer Michael Wilson and nature painter Rebecca Weller, not to mention an emotional reading by Barry Moser from his memoir We Were Brothers.  We were then treated to a lovely kickoff set by OtR, which set the stage for all kinds of incredible musical moments, which would simply threaten to eclipse one another throughout the weekend.  Here are only a few…

IMG_7598Joe Henry:  Acoustic set on Saturday, joined by Levon Henry for most of it.  What more could a JH fan ask for?  How about a Sunday morning songwriting seminar that stretched nearly two hours?  I’m sure I have mentioned many times how generous Joe Henry is with him time, but it was a rare treat indeed to hear his philosophy on songwriting (and life?) in such an incredible setting, nestled as we were in the loft of OtR’s barn, future home to intimate performances, recordings and who-knows-what-else.

Then came his Sunday set, effectively opening for The Blind Boys of Alabama.  Josh and I agreed that perhaps it was the best show we’ve ever seen by Joe – loose, wild, intense and exuberant.  He was joined by Jen, Jay, Levon, and, for a few numbers, by Eric Heywood on pedal steel (“Plainspeak” was revealed to be a loping honky-tonk number).  Then to cap it off, he invited JT and Allison from Birds of Chicago to join him for a smoking rendition of John Prine’s “Storm Windows.”  Who else, but Joe Henry, could reimagine “Storm Windows” as a semi-gospel rave-up, not the least bit unlike the many versions of The Band’s “The Weight” that you’ve heard so many times?  It was, very possibly, the musical highlight of a weekend completely jam-packed with them.

But, of course, there was…

IMG_7601 (1)Birds of Chicago:  You will not speak to a soul at Nowhere Else Fest who will fail to rant, rave and tug at your coattail with tales of wonder and revelation, served from the altar of Birds of Chicago.  I will wager that they came into this festival as the relative unknown and left as the band on the tip of everyone’s tongue.  Their Saturday set was a reminder that live performance can aspire to something approaching a tent revival, assuming you believe that music is but one of many ways that the Divine reveals Himself to our eyes and ears.  But even if you don’t… Birds of Chicago were simply a force of nature.  Look at it this way:  they have released arguably the best record of the year (Real Midnight, produced by Joe Henry), and easily my favorite song of 2016 (“Remember Wild Horses”), and, yet, I was wholly unprepared for how powerful the band would be in a live setting.  Birds of Chicago are getting ready to hit the summer folk festival circuit, and they will spend most of the summer re-printing t-shirts and CD’s.

But, of course, there was…

IMG_7566Over The Rhine:  What.  A.  Vision.  The journey to this festival has been an act of sheer will on the part of Karin and Linford.  One can hardly imagine what they were thinking years ago when this journey began, but the rest of us are the beneficiaries of their foresight, which appreciated their community perhaps more than anyone else.  They played set after set, stunning their seasoned audience each time.  But, of course, OtR fans have come to expect nothing less.  Did I mention that Levon Henry repeatedly joined the band on saxophone and seemed to take his playing to new heights each time?

Over The Rhine have ventured into uncharted territory with this music and arts festival, and I don’t envy them their task for next year: somehow conceive an event that matches the power of this year’s Nowhere Else Fest without wholly repeating it.

Or just repeat it – please, just do.

IMG_7508(And, yet, I have failed to mention: workshops with Michael Wilson and Barry Moser, a lovely set by Lily & Madeleine, the always-charming Lucy Wainwright Roche, Levon Henry’s revelatory solo set, the stunning art of Melanie Ciccone.  The candid and touching discussion of music and healing, featuring Jeffrey A. Ward.  And the many lovely family and fans that I met this weekend.)

It was all there at Nowhere Else Fest — see you next year!

 

 

Joe Henry Odds N Ends: Late Spring Edition

It’ll hit 90 degrees in Houston this week, so I figured time was running out to post any Late Spring JH news…

  • As previously mentioned, JH will appear at Over The Rhine’s Nowhere Else Festival over Memorial Day weekend.  You can get a clearer picture of what to expect at the festival’s website.
  • In addition to the new Allen Toussaint record (due June 10), there are several new production projects due in 2016:
    • Chely Wright’s new album I Am The Rain will be released in September.
    • Canadian singer-songwriter Rose Cousins has recorded a new record with JH and will be released later this year (you can pre-order the record from her website to receive it sometime prior the official release).
    • JH’s own website lists a new production from Austrian band Son of the Velvet Rat.
  • Stefan has a terrific new interview with Birds of Chicago, conducted while they were on tour in Europe.
  • JH will appear with Rosanne Cash on June 20 in Los Angeles at an event called Composed: The Intersection of Poetry and Song.  Reservations are closed but you can stand-by for admission on the day of the event.
  • JH will open for Rhiannon Giddens at her date this summer at Prospect Park Bandshell as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn! series (announcement on May 10).
    (UPDATE:  Sorry, this was from 2015 – my mistake.  But if you are going to be in the NYC area in July, why not check this out?)
  • There is an amazing interview with engineer Ryan Freeland, conducted by Steve Dawson for his Music Makers and Soul Shakers Podcast.  Dawson has also interviewed Bill Frisell, Mary Gauthier and, most recently, Marc Ribot.  (Also available on iTunes)
  • And speaking of Ribot, as you may recall, he and JH performed as a duo at the recent Big Ears Festival in Knoxville (read Josh Hurst’s review of the show here).  You can watch much of the performance on YouTube in four parts (see below).

Big thanks to Stefan Vandenberghe for keeping us updated when I am sometimes slacking off!

Joe Henry to appear at Over The Rhine’s Nowhere Else Festival in May

Following last year’s inaugural Nowhere Else Festival at their home, Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler of Over The Rhine have expanded the format of this year’s festival to include several guest artists.  I wasn’t able to find the contents of their latest email update online, so I’ve just reproduced it here.  Joe Henry will appear at the festival this year, alongside several other noteworthy artists, including Levon Henry.  A festival FAQ link and ticket link can be found at the bottom of the update…

Dear barn swallows, barn owls, barn raisers, blue jean sky dreamers, hayloft guitars, barn dance beauties…

Last May we gathered on the beautiful piece of unpaved earth we have come to call home for special barn-raising concerts. It was truly the weekend of a lifetime for Karin and I as we began taking real steps toward the next chapter for our music and life’s work. Saving and restoring a 140-year-old barn was something we could never have done on our own. Just like in years long past, it still takes a community and extended family.

This year we are growing.

Hopefully you’ve heard by now that Karin and I are hosting our first Music and Arts Festival on the farm this Memorial Day Wknd, May 28 & 29. (There is a special gathering on the 27th as well.)

What fun it has been to invite some of the songwriters, visual artists and writers who have shared the journey – people who have not only inspired our work, but who have kindled in us the desire to be better people.

We started by asking three of our most important, treasured teachers – and dear friends. Imagine our joy when they all said yes!

Perhaps you’ll tolerate our excitement if we write just a few personal reflections on a few of them. (We’ll announce the full line-up and festival schedule soon – some artists and writers are still being confirmed.)

So without further ado, here is a first taste of some of our favorite people – some of those who will be joining us this Memorial Day Weekend at Nowhere Else Festival 2016! We truly hope you can be a part of it.

Rivers and oceans,

Linford and Karin

First, we invited Michael Wilson. Michael is one of the great photographers and picture-makers of our generation and has been a faithful friend since we met in 1988. He probably doesn’t think of himself as having helped mentor Karin and I but that’s exactly what he did. Over the years he has made beautiful portraits of many of our songwriting peers and heroes.  He was the first person to spin a Tom Waits record for us late one night. He has contributed photographs to over 20 of our recording projects, and his beautiful work undoubtedly made the songs more resonant than they would have been on their own.

We can’t host our first music and arts festival without Michael and his work. Michael will present some of his photographs in the barn, talk about his work and some of the pictures that made him want to be a photographer. You’ll also have the opportunity to follow Michael and his camera on a photo ramble through nearby Wilmington, Ohio, and make pictures alongside a true master of the craft.

Check out some of Michael’s photographs here: michaelwilson.pictures

Joe Henry was our next call. Joe is a multiple Grammy-award winning songwriter, record producer, writer, espresso connoisseur and so much more. At a turning point in our career, Joe helped Karin and I blow the seams out of our songs and record The Long Surrender and Meet Me At The Edge Of The World – records that were funded by our extended musical family, and therefore collaborative efforts at art making.

As a brother and kindred spirit, Joe has opened and nurtured an ongoing conversation with us that has continued to billow our sails. Meeting and working with Joe is one of the reasons that Karin can even now say with full conviction, There is still so much music left to be made.

Joe introduced us to the incredible musicians who eventually became The Band of Sweethearts, and of course they will be present at the festival as well.

Joe and his band will be performing at the festival but we’ll also find opportunities for Joe to perform solo and talk about his life’s work and discoveries as a songwriter, record producer, author and consummate student of life. Don’t miss this unique chance to lean fully into his sway.

BARRY MOSER has illustrated over 300 books. In addition to being an illustrator, he is also a printer, painter, printmaker, designer, author, essayist and teacher. (Not to mention dog lover.) He has won far too many awards to list.

His illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland won him a National Book Award for design and illustration. His illustrations for Moby Dick confirmed his world-class stature as one of the great engravers and printmakers of our generation.

Barry’s work is represented in numerous collections, museums and libraries in the United States and abroad, including the National Gallery of Art, The Metropolitan Museum, The British Museum, The Library of Congress, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Cambridge et cetera.

One rewarding thing about being a songwriter is you never quite know where the path will lead. Meeting and befriending Barry has been one of the great, good, unexpected gifts of this life. And Barry has taught us so much as we have shared a thousand laughs…

Barry was the first person we heard announce to any artist within earshot: “Talent is as common as house dust, and about as useful as teats on a boar hog…”

To Barry, it’s not about talent, it’s about doing the work.

Barry encourages all of his students not to call themselves “artists” but rather to call themselves by the work they do: songwriter, painter, writer, pianist, photographer… Barry says, let someone else decide if it’s art. Keep your focus on the work at hand, the craft. Make it about doing your best work.

Barry was the only 20th Century artist to profusely illustrate the King James Bible. There are only a few of these treasures still available – The Pennyroyal Caxton primary edition was limited to 450 copies. (Most were snatched up by the world’s great art museums and libraries…) Barry has donated one of these few remaining editions to our barn raising effort. It will be made available for bid at Nowhere Else Festival, and someone will take home a timeless work of art that can be passed down for many generations to come.

At the festival, Barry will be reading from his fine new memoir, We Were Brothers, and offering a number of workshops. You may well have occasion to meet and draw with one of the great artists – we said it – of our time.

So there you have it. It’s not an overstatement to say that Karin and I would have likely hung up our songwriting hats along the way had we not met these three unique, gifted artists and fellow-travelers. We can’t wait to share them with you.

Briefly, allow us to mention a few other gifted folks who will be descending on the farm with all manner of goodness to share:

We asked five-time Grammy Award winners THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA to have the last word this year. After all, we’re putting up a big, beautiful tent, why not close the festival with a tent-meeting revival of sorts. We’re going to let the Blind Boys’ soulful harmonies baptize the farm with roiling joy. Lift a glass, shed a few tears. What a coup.

We asked Rebecca Weller to discuss and display some of the beautiful paintings she’s been making of Ohio’s native songbirds ~ the birds we see most everyday on Nowhere Farm/Nowhere Else.

We asked Levon Henry to share some of the songs he’s been writing, and to bring his saxophone and sit in on some of the songs that he has recorded with us – There’s A Bluebird In My Heart, All My Favorite People… He’ll be performing with his father Joe’s band as well. Can’t wait for the sound of his voice and horn to put our world on notice.

Songwriter and story-teller extraordinaire Lucy Wainwright Roche will be on the scene, offering her songs and spring-water clear voice.

Cincinnati musical institution, The Comet Bluegrass Allstars, will pull from their 1000 song repertoire and grace our place with their virtuosity and humor.

And of course Over the Rhine and the Band of Sweethearts will offer concerts each day of the festival. It’s our party and we’ll cry (and laugh) if we want to…

There is more to come! We will announce the full festival line-up and schedule soon. There are additional workshops tba, and I’m planning a little nature walk on the farm with gifted nature photographer Kent Burgess and naturalist Kent Mitchell – we’ll ramble around, talk trees, songbirds, wildflowers, wild edges – and call them by name.

As we continue to reinvent and re-imagine what it means to have a music career in 2016, we hope you will join us on the farm for what’s shaping up to be a truly amazing weekend. Please share and help us spread the word.

Nowhere Else Festival tickets available here:
http://stores.portmerch.com/overtherhine/nowhere-else-festival.html

FAQ available here:
http://portmerch.com/downloads/2016_Festival_FAQ.pdf

Peace like a river, love like an ocean,

Linford and Karin

Joe Henry update (late, late summer edition)

Just a few odds and ends out of the Joe Henry universe (and nearby galaxies)…

  • First, JH and Levon should be wrapping up their brief Australian tour, which has been accompanied by some favorable press (a particularly nice article and interview in the Sydney Morning Herald).
  • JH will be returning stateside to appear very shortly thereafter at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville.  Joe’s official showcase will be at City Winery on September 18, but I’m sure he’ll be seen around the festival elsewhere.
  • JH recently participated in a social media fundraising campaign for MusicCares.  Various artists challenged three friends to post a picture of themselves with an album “that has made your life better” (along with a $5 donation to MusicCares).  Stefan has the low-down over at his blog.
  • A few notes from some friends and associates…
    • Over The Rhine will be releasing yet another Christmas album.  Blood Oranges in the Snow will be released on Nov. 4 and is described by Karin and Linford as “reality Christmas.”  (I don’t believe that JH had any hand in its production, but well worth your attention nonetheless.)
    • The Milk Carton Kids will be touring this fall again with Sarah Jarosz, featuring “collaborative performances” between the artists.  Full schedule here.
    • Some of you may know that I’m a shameless and die-hard Lucinda Williams fan.  Her new record (the double-album Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone) will be released on her own label on September 30.  At one time, JH was the rumored producer on this project.  However, in his place, frequent JH accomplice and all-around string master Greg Leisz became the co-producer (along with Williams and manager Tom Overby) and also contributes his guitar wizardry to nearly every track.  Bill Frisell, who collaborated with both JH and Leisz most notably on Civilians, lends his distinctive guitar work to two tracks (and is rumored to be featured on more tracks on yet another Lucinda record due sometime next year).  Several tracks have made their way online through various outlets, but if you want to hear what magic Frisell and Leisz can conjure, feast your ears on the album’s closing track, a cover of JJ Cale’s “Magnolia” (nine-plus minutes long!).  In my book, a Joe Henry album and Lucinda Williams album in the same year is pretty much all I could ask for.
  • And last but not least, this fall will see the release of two Bob Dylan projects.  First, the long wished-for Complete Basement Tapes will be released on Nov. 4.  A semi-related companion called Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes will be released on Nov. 11.  That record will feature Dylan lyrics from the period written into songs and performed by a talented group comprised of Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Jim James and Marcus Mumford.  JH mentor T-Bone Burnett oversaw and produced the whole thing.  No doubt, Joe Henry is smiling.

Wild Edges: A Recap

(Apologies for the relative lateness of this post, but as you know – since you are reading this post at the new site – I’ve been a little busy with the move of the blog.  Thanks for your patience and thanks for checking out the new blog location. – DK)

Wild_EdgesJosh Hurst – a friend and occasional contributor to this blog – joked this past weekend about how he personally “willed into existence” last year’s collaboration between Elvis Costello and The Roots, two acts for whom he is very passionate.  One could make a similar observation that Wild Edges – a commissioned performance of original songs from Joe Henry, Over The Rhine and The Milk Carton Kids – might have likewise been the result of subconscious prayer and wishful thinking from Josh, myself or any number of fans of these intertwined talents.

Setting aside the complete uniqueness of the event (over two nights at Durham’s Hayti Heritage Center), one could conceivably worry that the endeavor would look better on paper than it would sound in execution.  It is, after all, a tall order for artists to compose and perform original music, never heard in public in any format, and connect it to the ears of an expectant audience.  If anticipation was already high, the stunning and intimate setting of the Hayti certainly raised the stakes.

All that said, however, it will surprise few readers of this blog that I and – judging from their exuberant reaction – nearly everyone in attendance walked away from the two nights with all expectations met and exceeded, not to mention souls and spirits nourished and renewed.  The premise was to connect selections from the Great American Songbook – which in this context was represented by inspirations such as “Delia’s Gone”, “The Needle and The Damage Done”, “Spring Can Hang You Up The Most” and many others – to the new songs.  Those connections were occasionally explicit but mostly provided springboards for the compositions, which, according to Henry, would have to “fight it out in the streets,” just like any other songs.

And fight they did; though in these capable hands, they mostly floated like butterflies while occasionally stinging like bees.  Almost every song had something unique to offer.  Henry’s “The Glorious Dead” certainly sounded like something lifted directly from his own songbook, but, as Linford Detweiler pointed out, sounded like “an unearthed hymn.”  “Dangerous Love” was a swinging tune on its own merits, but Levon Henry’s wicked saxophone solo that capped off the performance wrenched it off its foundations.  Both evenings opened with “Los Lunas,” which was as perfect a song as I’ve heard Karin Bergquist sing, underpinned by Kenneth Pattengale’s lilting pedal steel.  Joey Ryan had several standout performances, and his voice proved to be a key ingredient on many of the evening’s songs.  Ryan reliably provided dry comic relief in between more than a few of the songs.

The cast was superbly accompanied by Henry regulars Jennifer Condos (bass) and Jay Bellerose (drums, percussion and assorted noise), along with Levon on clarinet and saxophone.  The performances were packed with musical highlights but certainly his contributions were among the most indelible.  Likewise, Pattengale no doubt shocked the audience with his vast reserves of instrumental talent, which included impressive work on pedal steel, dobro, electric guitar, accordion and piano.  The number of participants ranged from two (when Pattengale accompanied Bergquist with his soulful piano on a tune only played during the second evening) to all participants, with all points in between as various cast members left the stage briefly.  Unsurprisingly, with this batch of talent, the arrangements never threatened to overshadow or suffocate the songs themselves.

The proceedings were recorded by engineer Ryan Freeland for possible future release, and after two nearly flawless presentations, one should anticipate that little will prevent that from happening.

Followers of these acts are most likely the type of music fans who hold dear the notion that music is more than mere entertainment and can occasionally achieve transcendence.  My guess is that all who bore witness to these miraculous two nights of music walked away with that assumption both intact and fortified.

Here are a couple of reviews from the local North Carolina press: