Rothrock on DeWitte: The Cedar Rapids musician opens up about her husband’s illness ahead of a weekend of performances

Lynne Rothrock and Ron DeWitte

Opus Concert Cafe — Friday, Oct. 6 at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m.

Ron DeWitte and Lynne Rothrock play the Opus Concert Cafe in Cedar Rapids this weekend. — photo courtesy of the artists

Vocalist Lynne Rothrock and guitarist Ron DeWitte are fixtures of the Eastern Iowa music scene. They are also married. And together, they are coping with DeWitte’s serious illness. This weekend at the Opus Concert Café, the pair will take to the stage to make music together. The concerts will be a celebration of their shared passion.

The Saturday, Oct. 7 performance is sold out, but limited tickets remain for the Friday, Oct. 6 performance. Showtime on Friday is 8:30 p.m. (Saturday’s show is 7:30 p.m.); tickets are $30.

In this email interview, Rothrock shares the challenges the couple is facing as well as the importance of music in their lives at this difficult time.

Tell me about the program for the evening. You and Ron come from different musical places and traditions. What are the challenges of that and what are the musical opportunities?

We do have wildly different musical backgrounds, and over the 14 years we’ve been together we have each learned so much from each other. I couldn’t begin to list all the things I’ve learned from my husband, who is the most innate musician I have ever known — but a big thing is being totally present in the moment of making music. A lot of that comes from improvising solos, which he is amazing at — the connection he makes with an audience and fellow band members when he is completely engaged in the music is amazing — and the spontaneity of that sort of thing was not part of my musical background at all.

I would say that something he has learned from me is the value of rehearsal! The challenges of continually learning new material and also of talking to an audience. Perhaps using humor and language to connect with an audience, either spoken or sung, is more my world than his. Over the past few years we seem to have landed on a nice balance.

You have some great musicians joining you for the performance including Greg Kanz on drums, Danny Oline on bass and Julia West on piano. What do each of them bring to the table?

The biggest contribution that each of these folks make is their desire and ability to give Ron DeWitte a framework upon which to do his thing. They are all wonderful musicians and even friends of ours, but we all know that Ron is the why of this particular gig (and most of the gigs I’ve produced over the past three years, with the exception of my holiday show). Greg Kanz has played with Ron for years and they have a very special relationship — they lock in together well and just genuinely like each other so much, so that is very cool. Ron is reluctant to be the center of attention so he won’t headline his own show — the rest of us, including me, are there right now to create a space for him to do his best work.

Ron DeWitte is a fixture on the Cedar Rapids music scene. — photo courtesy of the artists

Ron is facing serious health challenges. Is preparing for these performances therapeutic? Exhausting? Both?

Ron has been dealing with pancreatic cancer for three and half years. Longer than most with that diagnosis — but the price is very high for that extra time. He has had a huge surgery and almost constant chemotherapy and radiation, and he has had a recurrence in his lungs. The most optimistic thing I can say right now is that his time is limited. As I have been trying to communicate to people — the time is now if you want to hear him play. People shouldn’t wait. He’s been hanging in so long and still playing that sometimes we worry that people think this will just keep going on and he may not be as ill as they once thought, but that isn’t true. He is very, very ill.

I will say without reservation that making music has kept him going throughout this process. He will tell you that the only time he is not thinking about death is when he is playing guitar. So the actual playing of the guitar is therapeutic and honestly, he is playing better than ever — more connected — as if the illness has broken him open a bit emotionally. It is something to witness for sure. But the lugging around of gear, the setting up and sound checking, the planning and rehearsing — sometimes even the socializing involved in these situations — all of that is exhausting and really tough on him.

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Will you be recording the performances and/or are they any thoughts of putting out a record featuring the two you?

As a matter of fact we are recording these shows, and we recorded the ones we did there in June as well. Turns out there is very little Ron DeWitte music that has been recorded so we do plan to make a CD of the best of these events and make it available to folks. I will be on it, but it will be a showcase for Ron.

What makes the Opus Concert Café a good venue for these concerts?

To brag on my husband more, which he would hate … he honestly is so special as a musician. There are several great guitar players around here, but Ron is unique in his ability to put passion, phrasing and emotion into his playing. He was always good at that, but since he’s been sick, it is literally like a spiritual experience.

What breaks my heart into a million pieces is to know that he will be gone soon and not enough people will have had the chance to experience that in the best way — in a room like Opus where folks have paid for a ticket and are sitting quietly, giving him their attention and energy and receiving the most amazing gift of his heart and spirit in return. That just doesn’t happen in a bar gig where folks are drinking and talking.

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