As a duo, married singer-songwriters Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist are as close to a match made in musical heaven as anything I've seen, but they are far from the perfect couple. Anyone who has attended a dinner party as a guest of a "power-couple" knows the effect a well-played conjugal performance can have on the ill-prepared -- the stories told in punctuated harmony that can easily upstage the music, the moments of mutual reverence and the general impression of endless, daily contentment that trigger unwanted envy and understandable insecurity.
These types of couples don't keep good friends for long, since who wants to cope with a constant reminder that your own marriage seems harder than it should and love isn't all you need; but Linford and Karin display a remarkable vulnerability in both their on-stage presence and in their music that seduces you with honesty and urges you to cherish what you love. They are the couple you want to love because you want to know them better, not the couple you hate because you can never be like them.
Early in the night, a beautiful rendition of "All My Favorite People" set this tone. The song is a meditation on human frailty and an earnest acceptance that we are all, eventually, damaged goods and better because of it. This humility isn't fleeting, Karin's voice throughout their canon is a salve to the unrepentant cynic: "Cause all my favorite people are broken/Believe me, my heart should know/As for your tender heart, this world's going to rip it wide open, /It aint gonna be pretty, but you're not alone."
And the audience didn't feel alone either. Throughout the night, Linford provided us with measured, well-crafted narratives sharing intimate moments from the couple's life. He spoke of dusky evenings when a song was born, a glimpse into surprising domesticity, when they sat as the sun went down on the porch of their pre-Civil War farmhouse in the Ohio valley, and wrote a song. But rather than mythologize their love, they seem resigned to suffer it, and in that they share something precious, and real, and troubled at times: "What may seem complicated/Is overstated, downright misunderstood/Love will not be outdated/Maybe placated, but it's got to be good."
It is difficult not to engage in speculation with these two. Karin Brequist is a stunning woman whose beauty is captivating long before a note escapes from her lips in song. An earth-bound beauty, she sings from deep within, breathy and rustic and never overwrought -- with a signature sound their one-time producer Joe Henry likened to "…blue smoke in rafters." There is wistfulness to Karin that invites curious assumption and begs the listener for empathy. When an audience member tried, unsuccessfully at first, to catch her attention by shouting out a snippet from a well-known lyric, "I couldn't love you more than I love you now," she quipped in return, "Oh..I thought you were getting fresh with me…" then with a gracious, soft let-down, "and it's all right if you were," she left us all to swoon a little. A mystery hangs over her and invites you close, promising intimacy that may overwhelm but seems ready to embrace.
In contrast, Linford is a driving force, "with a lust for light and an iron will." His narrative weaves everything together, from their home, to Ohio, to their life as itinerant musicians. This forced perspective can itself overwhelm, and his background -- a son of a preacher who himself roamed the country -- seems tailored to a professional dreamer, a skilled poet and a willful lover, ruthlessly applying an aesthetic like a missionary of music to "leave the edges wild."
This couple has many friends. They are featured in their songs, cultivated from tours, and seem to be carried along in spite of failings or fair-weatheredness with a fierce, dogged loyalty. How do I know this having never met them? It is because I believe this to be true and do not want the dream to die.
As any fan of Over the Rhine will tell you, and there was a sold out crowd this Friday evening, they remain an inspiration, not out of misplaced worship but hard-won piety. They are almost financed exclusively through fans and avoid entanglements with record labels and producers. Fans have collaborated on their albums, donating to them with no expectations of return, save the music, which appears to me to be the greatest gift of all, apart from love that is. As the evening wound down, the crowd -- predominantly couples -- left hand in hand, heads on shoulder, and with each, possessing a little bit more love than when the night began. If that's not a friend, than I don't know what is.