Over the Rhine brings Christmas to Calvin


Photo courtesy Calvin SAO

Indie folk band Over the Rhine returned to Calvin College on Saturday, Dec. 2, to perform an acoustic Christmas concert in the chapel sanctuary.

Ohio natives Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, a husband-and-wife team, started Over the Rhine in 1989. They’ve since released 23 albums, seven of which were done live, gaining more and more of a following as they continue. In the past, they’ve performed alongside of John Prine, My Morning Jacket and Bob Dylan.

“I think they may have been one of the first bands I booked to play at Calvin,” Ken Heffner, director of student activities, said when introducing the band. “They have been here a lot. Neither one of us can remember how many times they’ve played here, but this is a band that has continued to do amazing work.”

The duo, along with musician Brad Meinerding, then took the stage to perform to a well-sized and attentive crowd. The setlist consisted of songs from several of their past albums — mainly “The Darkest Night of the Year” (1996), “Snow Angels” (2006) and “Blood Oranges in the Snow” (2014), as those are the group’s three holiday themed collections.

Detweiler rotated from guitar to acoustic piano as he and Bergquist — who also performed on miscellaneous instruments — provided the vocals. Meinerding rotated from stringed instruments to harmonica, providing a soft yet welcome background track.

Between songs, Detweiler and Bergquist had a steady and humorous banter, telling the audience various stories about when they first started dating or about fans they’ve met along the way. They also shed light on the inspiration for some of their songs and the meaning behind the phrase “Reality Christmas” to which they repeatedly referred to.

“When we were working on ‘Blood Oranges in the Snow,’ at some point Karin leaned over and said ‘I think we’ve stumbled onto a new genre of music: Reality Christmas,’” Detweiler said. “I think it’s true, that last song [“My Father’s Body”] speaks to the empty chair at the table. If you’ve lost a loved one, a job or are dealing with chronic illness, that stuff doesn’t go away during the holidays. We like to get it all into the songs. Songs are safe containers for all of it.”

Indeed, many of Over the Rhine’s songs examine these dark undertones that can sometimes surround the holidays, giving a voice to those who may choose to remain silent during these times. The music isn’t all dark and gloom, however, as they keep the hopeful side of life in mind when presenting “Reality Christmas” as well.

In addition to their Christmas collection, the troupe also used the opportunity to present some new music they had been working on.

“We started the tour on November 30th,” Bergquist said. “It just felt early for a holiday tour, but that’s the way it goes. So we’re [sneaking] in some holiday tunes but also some new material, because we’ve got a couple of new records we’re working on.”

Ending with a standing ovation, an encore and then a second standing ovation, Over the Rhine once again provided a pleasantly peaceful yet down-to-earth beginning to the holiday season.