Lynne Rothrock’s Christmas Cabaret began with an acoustic evening of stories and songs at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in 2003.
But a couple weeks later, fate stepped in. The Cedar Rapids chanteuse met a rockin’ blues guitarist during a New Year’s Eve gig at the Longbranch, and by 2004, they were not only plugged in as a couple, but the cabaret became plugged into the electric scene, thanks to Ron DeWitte’s blazing blues guitar.
This year, however, that fiery guitar will silently sit where her husband always sat, but the rest of the show will go on, tonight (12/6) through Saturday (12/8) in Whipple Auditorium at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. The shows will feature a couple of special tributes to the man and his music, who died Feb. 16, after waging a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
DeWitte performed in last year’s cabaret, surprising everyone, including his wife.
“Last year was really rough,” Rothrock, 55, of Cedar Rapids, said. “Everyone felt it would probably be his last one. He was already on morphine for pain last year, but he was a complete champ.”
A month later, he entered hospice.
How did these very different musicians blend their divergent styles?
“I would say we really did not, very successfully, in the beginning,” Rothrock said with a laugh. “He really didn’t do that much playing the first couple years. I created my songs that were mostly keyboard driven, and he would add what he could, here and there, but then he would do his songs and I would ooh and ah in background. It took us a long time, and then we did meld styles enough to be part of each other’s world.
“I valiantly tried to sing some blues things,” she said. “I think I got a lot better at that, although no one would ever confuse me for an actual blues singer.”
The Christmas cabarets “changed dramatically when Ron came into picture,” she said, “because then we needed to have a whole band and we needed a sound system. It just became more music-driven rather than storytelling. That was only year 2.
“And then each year it became about trying to find songs that really featured him, so it became more bluesy. Also, I started having special guests join, so then depending on who the guests were each year, the show would lean in that direction to give them some stuff to do.
“I feel like I have a formula that has worked. I always end it with the same song, where everybody can sing along on ‘Silent Night.’ I like the format that we have now, and I just plug into it some new songs, and try to create new things that feature whoever’s joining me that year.”
Special guests this year include two of Rothrock’s students: Twin Cities guitarist Dan Schwartz, who was in her first classroom in St. Paul in 1986, and Amber Mussman, who has taken one of Rothrock’s cabaret classes and as an actor, shared the stage with her at Giving Tree Theater in Marion.
The Christmas Cabaret has been presented in various intimate Corridor venues over the years, including the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, the former Campbell Steele Gallery in Marion, the ARA Gallery in Cedar Rapids and Riverside Theatre in Iowa City. The goal was to play in small spaces, but as their popularity grew, they sought out a space that would accommodate their growing fan base in fewer performances. They found what they were looking for in the Cedar Rapids Public Library’s 200-seat Whipple Auditorium.
“It’s so pretty and so lovely with (Greene Square) in the background,” Rothrock said. “I’m a big fan of libraries. I love that it’s a community building.”
Music sustained her husband, and it continues to sustain Rothrock as she moves forward with her life and her career.
“I don’t know how I’d get to January if I didn’t do a holiday show. It is my job,” she said. “One of the things that he and I talked about — it was a particularly painful conversation — he talked to me about how he wanted me to be sure that I continued to make music when he was gone, which I did, of course, for many, many years before I ever met him. I figured I would in some capacity, because it’s just who I am. This is my first big challenge of something have to do that was part of him too, that I have to do without him.
“I don’t think I would be better off sitting at home by myself. I have music to make and music to teach. ...
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“As hard as it is to move forward, it would be harder to not be surrounded by this group of friends as I continue to figure out what my purpose is.”
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WHAT: Lynne Rothrock’s Christmas Cabaret
WHERE: Whipple Auditorium, Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today (12/6) to Saturday (12/8)
TICKETS: $30 until one hour before show time, Lynnerothrock.com; $35 door, cash or check only