Hall of Fame pianist coming back to Blue Earth
Lori Line was five years old when her curiosity led her to the keys of a piano.
“I just jumped up on the bench,” she says. “On my sixth birthday, my parents got me a piano.”
Good thing they did, because what followed were not only decades of touring, millions of album sales and an induction into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame but, at the core of it all, the unfolding of one little girl’s starstruck dream.
“It’s been a really happy career,” Line says. “I felt like God gave me this special gift, and I’ve been using it in a very positive way.”
She will use it again on Nov. 25, when she is slated to hit Blue Earth Area High School’s Performing Arts Center (PAC) to kick off her 27th year of touring.
Her “A Merry Little Christmas” show, complete with a five-person Pop Chamber Orchestra, an accompanying vocalist and a sideshow Santa Claus who doubles as her husband, Tim, figures to fill the PAC seats before giving the audience all-new music.
But the performing gig is nothing new to Line, who in 1986 took up a pianist role inside Dayton’s department stores after a string of childhood piano competitions and time studying piano performance at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Working 28 hours a week between Minneapolis, Southdale and Rosedale, she was one of 17 local pianists paid to draw customers with her music.
“I serenaded shoppers,” she recalls. “I was there to provide a background ambience, but people would eventually walk up and ask if I had cassette tapes.”
Five years later, enough people had been entranced by Line’s musical talents to convince the Nevada-born pianist to “retire” from Dayton’s and pursue the instrumental desires that were embedded within her years earlier.
“I started forming a little group of people and started touring,”she says.
Hard work and a whole lot of piano playing ensued, and before long, Line was on her way to recording 49 albums, six million of which have been sold over the course of her independent career, not to mention separately publishing 46 books of music.
“I had the opportunity to sign with some record companies,” she says. “That kind of thing was really sought after then, but it was nice to maintain control, because we do everything from start to finish.”
That includes writing music, arranging orchestration, recording songs, distributing albums and coordinating an average of 80 concerts each year, set up and torn down at more than 2,000 stages over nearly 30 years of live touring.
It is a tall order, maybe, considering Line’s business headquarters still reside in the lower level of her Lake Minnetonka home. But these days, with three decades of marriage under her belt and two children out of the house, Line also finds more reason than ever to embrace her calling as a lifelong performer.
“In my early days, I had little kids, trying to manage motherhood,” she says. “Now, I’m free to go and do whatever I want.”
A lot of what she wants, of course, revolves around the piano, whether it is being played near her hometown, at a new theater in Burnsville or even Bismarck, North Dakota, where Line says the “crowds are crazy.”
But as her career exemplifies, there is more than a sizable demand for her talents.
Joining Prince and more than 100 others as an honoree of the state’s Music Hall of Fame in 2015, Line was cemented as an independent icon of the Midwest, even if her fans back at Dayton’s may have vouched for such recognition long ago.
“When you go there and see your picture up there on the wall with Judy Garland, Bob Dylan, it’s a real thrill,” she says. “It really is.”
It is almost as memorable, perhaps, as when Line hosted former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura for dinner, cooking for him and then showcasing her skills on the piano.
Or when, during a scheduled show at Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall, Line ended up performing in front of a pair of U.S. presidents.
“When (Bill) Clinton was leaving and George W. Bush was coming in, I had a show the next day,” she says. “There was an intern there that brought me in under the Lincoln portrait, and all the family of the Clintons and the Bushs were there.”
It was one of the highlights of Line’s illustrious journey, but it was also merely one of many memories she has collected since jumping up onto the piano bench at age five.
“I’ve had so many fans and worked at it so hard, so it’s extremely rewarding,” she says. “As long as people are still coming, I’ll keep going.”
With that, her “Merry Little Christmas” tour in Blue Earth is where it starts for Line in 2016.
It most certainly is not where it ends.