'Linebackers' stand behind Lorie Line

In the lobby of Boston's Berklee Performance Center, fans of pianist Lorie Line are sharing stories prior to the pianist's concert - and it seems everyone has a tale to tell.

"I heard her music at the Nature Store in the early '90s and fell in love with her music," one woman said. "I've bought every one of her CDs since."

And another: "I saw her PBS special a few years back and enjoyed her show and music. When I heard she was coming to the East Coast, I drove two hours from Connecticut to see her."

Stories like these are not uncommon. Her fans have a wide age range and are spread out all over the United States. A majority of her devoted fans, known as "Linebackers," live in Minnesota, which Line also calls home.

"I'm just a normal, everyday person with two kids, and people find me pretty approachable," says Line from a hotel in Pittsburgh during her two-week spring tour. "I have an ability to connect with these people through my music." Compared with her spring concerts, Line's holiday concerts are on a much grander scale. Her holiday shows have become a Christmas tradition in Minnesota. Last year, about 80,000 people attended her 47-concert tour over the holidays.

Line, who trained as a classical pianist at the University of Nevada in Reno, isn't your typical piano player. On stage, she'll move from playing a solo classic piano piece to her own rendition of a Ricky Martin tune with her 14-piece pop chamber orchestra.

"My biggest challenge is the stereotype of being a pianist," Line says. "They're all thinking it's going to be a piano recital - real

stiff walk out in the black dress, a sit down, and then play a slow two hours."

The evening I attended, her show was filled with energy, a wide range of music, and humor. In one instance, she picked two audience members to come on stage and sing "Old Time Rock and Roll" with her gospel singer, Robert Robinson (known in the Twin Cities as the "Pavarotti of Gospel Music").

Line got her start playing in Dayton's Dept. stores in Minnesota in 1988. Her husband thought it was perfect because "I'd get to do the two things I love to do under one roof: shop and play the piano," laughs Line. She worked for five years playing for Dayton shoppers and built a loyal fan base.

"People kept asking me if I had a CD out and I thought that was interesting because back in 1988-89, I can't tell you one artist who had gone out on their own and made their own CD and been independent."

Entertaining shoppers eventually became more profitable than her day job and she soon carved out her own musical career by recording her first album. "I cashed in Tim's [her husband's] 401(k) - by the way, I'm the best investment he ever made - and then I just started going for it."

Since then, she has turned into a marketing machine (some have called her "the Martha Stewart of the piano"). Besides playing, Line puts her stamp on everything - from the stage set and costumes to promoting her concerts and selling tickets. She even does her own hair and makeup instead of hiring a stylist, and travels to New York regularly to keep up with the latest fashion trends. Her husband, Tim, coordinates the tours and runs the record label.

Line's music has appeared on the New Age charts for four years. The pianist says she doesn't mind, but there's a negative image attached. "The artists in this category are really sleepy and it's real background music and kind of ethereal. But there are a lot of artists like me in there, so there's a huge variety of ... players in New Age music."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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