Arts and Entertainment

An instrumental (hall)iday tradition

Somewhere in between the fingerpicking acoustic guitar and the frolicking double reeds, you can almost hear the sound of the holidays in the tones of Tingstad and Rumbel.

It’s the sound of comfort, described Georgia Browne, director of cultural events for the Bainbridge Island Metro Parks and Recreation district, a group which has helped make Tingstad and Rumbel an annual island tradition for more than 20 years.

The duo has garnered quite an audience around Bainbridge, Browne noted. Theirs is the type of concert where 90 percent of tickets are pre-sold by the day of the show, she said.

In looking at Tingstad and Rumble’s 20-some-year history together, it’s easy to see why. And looking back at the very beginning, it’s easy to see why seasons’ greetings seem to ring amidst their cadence.

Talking with the strings of the operation, Eric Tingstad, by phone from his home studio in Issaquah last week, he said, “If it weren’t for the Tingstad and Rumbel Christmas album, there wouldn’t be a Tingstad and Rumbel.”

After playing in rock bands since age 14 and going on to study Spanish guitar, Tingstad was recording solo guitar albums at the time in the early 80s, having stepped away from rock and roll into the more mellow folk/Americana scene.

In 1985, he was in the process of recording a solo guitar Christmas album when one day he was “having tea and playing some tunes” with Nancy Rumbel and asked if she might want to play a bit with him on the album.

“Well, she ended up playing a lot on it,” Tingstad noted.

Thus unleashed the combo Tingstad and Rumble and their unique atmospheric blend of Americana-style, six-string with double reed oboe and ocarina (an ancient flute-like wind instrument).

Back then, there were only, like, three Christmas albums out, Tingstad notes — listing Bing Crosby, George Winston and a few others (forgetting, of course, the infamous Star Wars Christmas Album “Christmas in the Stars” in 1980).

“OK, so maybe four,” he said. “But now there’s a million of them.”

Back then when Tingstad and Rumbel introduced their internationally influenced acoustic and oboe instrumental Christmas tunes, it was something new, and people took to it. A couple dozen albums later, a Grammy in 2003, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And Tingstad and Rumbel are still playing their annual concert here at the Island Center Hall.

“This is our 23rd holiday season together,” Tingstad notes. “We haven’t done a Christmas show every year, but a lot of them.”

I ask him if there’s anything that sets Bainbridge apart from other venues they’ve played.

“Definitely that room that we play in just sounds great — that old wood grange hall — it’s the perfect reverb,” Tingstad said.

And, he adds, it was grange halls like the Island Center Hall that, in part, compelled him to make the transition from rock bands to the folk scene in the early 80s — and coincidentally to make that solo guitar Christmas album that would become the beginning of the Tingstad and Rumbel tradition.

TINGSTAD AND RUMBEL RETURN to Bainbridge with songs from a new CD — “Leap of Faith,” due out inauguration day January 2009 — at 7 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Island Center Hall, 8395 Fletcher Bay Road on Bainbridge. All ages, tickets are $18 adv/$20 at the door, $10 for youth. For advance tickets, call (206) 842-2306. Info: www.tingstadrumbel.com, www.biparks.org.

Seattle acoustic duo Tingstad and Rumbel return to the Island Center Hall for the annual seasons’ greetings show this Sunday.

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