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Joe Henry and others bring 'poetic spirit' to Hayti

Special To The Chronicle / Daniel Wheeler
Special To The Chronicle / Daniel Wheeler

Duke Performances will feature singer-songwriter Joe Henry, as well as folk groups Over the Rhine and The Milk Carton Kids, at the Hayti Heritage Center on April 11 and 12 to record a premiere performance of new material.

“It is a really impressive acoustical space,” said Aaron Greenwald, director of Duke Performances, of the former African Methodist Episcopal church. “The room handles reverberation quite well, so you don’t get distortion.”

The unusual dimensions of the wide and wood-paneled space enhance the acoustics that define the center as exceptional for performing and recording music.

“We like to try to find venues that will fit a project well,” Greenwald said. “We’ve done a couple record projects there.”

Joe Henry, a veteran producer and an experienced singer-songwriter, will lend his voice to the tight harmonies and rich lyrics of Cincinnati band Over the Rhine and Los Angeles duo The Milk Carton Kids.

“Joe Henry has produced Over the Rhine’s two most recent albums, and we’ve had the chance to share stages together, albeit briefly,” Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine said in an email.

The connections between the three artists run deep, as Over the Rhine and The Milk Carton Kids have also toured together, and Joe Henry has written liner notes for several of the Milk Carton Kids’ albums.

“We’ve all admired Joe’s writing and fierce poetic spirit for years,” Detweiler said.

Greenwald echoed these sentiments as he described how the project came together.

“Joe Henry is a very brilliant songwriter. He is someone whose work I’ve really admired for a long time,” Greenwald said. “[Duke Performances] essentially commissioned him to make this live record.”

This commission follows in the vein of other projects this year, such as the successful “Lend Me Your Voice” collaboration by Nick Sanborn. Other collaborations organized by Duke Performances include a previous recording by Megafaun, Justin Vernon and Sharon Van Etten three years ago.

“We try to produce a handful of projects every year that wouldn’t happen if we didn’t produce them or didn’t help support them financially or if we didn’t nurse them along a little bit,” Greenwald said of Duke Performance’s approach to projects.

The hope for these collaborations is that they not only bring a unique event to Duke University and the Triangle Area, but can also spread and gain national attention. For example, the “Lend Me Your Voice” project was also performed in Milwaukee to great acclaim. The question that remains is whether this unique folk collaboration between two well-liked and appreciated artists will also carry out into the national sphere.

“I think we’re all curious to see how the concerts at Duke go, and then we’ll proceed from there,” Detweiler said of the concert. “We are recording both shows with engineer Ryan Freeland, so we have high hopes that something significant will be captured.”

Greenwald admitted that none of the previously recorded albums from Hayti performances have been released in a widespread fashion. However, he has hope for this particular project.

“There’s a very real chance that this will come out as a record,” he said.

Once the project is actually performed, Duke Performances has very little say in what actually happens with the recording, so it remains to be seen what comes of this performance.

“Our approach with records, especially when they involve people that are this high profile, is to just let people walk with the masters,” Greenwald admitted.

Ultimately, though, this project is about the performance and not the end product. This one-of-a-kind show, “[grown] out of friendship, collaboration, hard work, and intuition,” according to Detweiler, will be an experience to remember.

“I think we are all deeply drawn to the mystery that is songwriting, and we are all very interested in finding a clear voice for that mystery that we can call our own,” Detweiler said of the collaboration. “So combining the voices to create something new is fascinating and pretty damn fun.”

Tickets are currently sold-out for this performance, which will occur on April 11 and April 12 at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham, NC.


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