PARK CITY, Utah (CelebrityAccess) — John Craigie doesn’t know it yet, but he’s going to be a STAR. He’s one producer and a major record label away from being one. The question for him though – is this something he wants?
A few weeks back I attended the Park City Song Summit in Utah where we saw Craigie perform in The Cabin, an intimate 150-person club located in the center of Main Street Park City.
There were so many shows in Park City each evening, that you had to pick and choose carefully and wow – we’re happy we picked a Craigie performance.
First, a little history on John –
Craigie’s a modern-day troubadour, cut from the same cloth as Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, or Pete Seeger. Portland, Oregon-based, John Craigie has performed with an impressive array of musicians, in a relatively short career, including the likes of Jack Johnson, Gregory Alan Isakov, Todd Snider, Paul Thorn, James McMurtry, Shawn Colvin, Sean Hayes, Nicki Bluhm, Aoife O’Donovan, ALO, Shook Twins, Rainbow Girls, Avett Brothers, and Trampled by Turtles.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Craigie took an unusual route to music, earning a degree in mathematics from the University of California Santa Cruz before venturing into a career as a performing artist.
He got his feet wet performing local shows around Santa Cruz, first as the lead singer and guitarist with a psychedelic rock band and then as a solo artist, focusing on singer-songwriter style folk music.
After self-releasing several albums, Craigie made his label debut in 2009 with Montana Tale, an album Craigie says was inspired by his early days of touring the Western U.S.
The album proved to be a hit with fans, as well as regional freeform radio outlets, such as Eureka, California-based KHUM, and KPIG, which broadcasts from Santa Cruz.
Since his debut in 2009, Craigie has released seven more studio albums, including multiple collaborations, such as 2017’s No Rain, No Rose, which was recorded in his Portland-home living room, and features Gregory Alan Isakov and Shook Twins, and 2020’s Asterisk The Universe, which features the ethereal indie rock trio Rainbow Girls.
Craigie has also recorded a pair of cover albums. Leave the Fire Behind (2010), which covers alternative music from the 1990s, and Paper Airplane, recorded two years later, which focuses on the music of Led Zeppelin.
His most recent album, 2022’s Mermaid Salt was recorded during the isolation of the pandemic at OK Theater in Enterprise, Ore., and features collaborations with Justin Landis, Shook Twins, Cooper Trail, Nevada Sowle, Bevin Foley, and Ben Walden.
We sat down with John for a 45-minute interview and here are some excerpts.
Nobody’s an overnight success in this business, but Craigie’s laid the groundwork for a very bright future.
I’ve spent time listening to every one of John’s albums and there is excellent growth in each of his albums, but not the massive breakthrough, that I am sure will happen with Craigie in the near future.
Seeing John perform live, is to experience joyous, irreverent, intelligent fun. John uses his wit and humor in a way that doesn’t cheapen his artistry – in fact – it augments it in a way I’ve never experienced. John is one of those artists – that from the first song onward – you end up rooting for him. The combination of his songwriting ability and delivery makes it impossible not to join his team.
Speaking of teams, Craigie’s surrounded himself with an “A” team of management and agency representation.
It seems like you’ve gathered a mini murderer’s row of support around you. Your management group at 7S – including Phil Einsohn – has a deep wealth of experience in helping artists grow their careers. I’m also a massive fan of Chris Tetzeli, founder and partner at 7S.
Your booking agents, Thomas Ponsart and Tom Chauncey at Partisan Arts are a top-notch organization. I’ve never met Thomas Ponsart, but I’ve learned one thing about Chauncey, over the forty years I’ve known him and that is – he wouldn’t have somebody on his team that wasn’t stellar. The question is, how did you come to assemble this great team and what are your goals to continue building your career?
“Jack had become friends with me (after becoming a fan of my music). So in 2017, Jack asked me to open for him and that all happened organically. As you know, it’s not like “A Star Is Born,” in our industry – that’s not how it happens.”
(On a side note – Jack Johnson covers Craigie’s songs in concert.)
“At the time I did not even have a booking agent. Phil (now my manager) was handling everything for me. I did have a brief stint with Fleming (booking agency) and they disbanded. So I remember hanging out with Tom Chauncey backstage, while opening for Jack Johnson, and those shows went really great… and Chauncey was being nice to me, saying things like – this is going well. He said maybe we should work together and I said, you know it’s not always going to be The Gorge etc., because Tom – after this, I’m going back and playing a hundred and fifty seat clubs and Chauncey laughed and said to me – don’t worry about it, we got this covered. So my relationship with Partisan was formed through that. And then I think, because Chauncey is involved with some really big artists, I was low on the totem pole and they got Thomas Ponsart to come in as my agent, who was the new guy on the team, who is an amazing worker.“
“I think a folk singer is not always looked on, as a viable dollar sign commercial entity. My goal has always been to play a good room- to a good crowd, that fits my audience for that town – not too big – not too small and to have the right people to be there. So I wasn’t desperate then, but I was getting ready – and at a point in my career, where I realized – well I remember – I was playing a festival somewhere and talking to somebody who had a manager and I didn’t have a manager. I saw that my crowds were much bigger than his and he was getting paid three times as much. I started to think – so here’s how this works. “My manager Phil, I met when he was managing Shook Twins, a duo that are dear friends of mine, and at first Phil and I became friends and through that, Phil became my manager.“
“After that we started working together in the summer of 2015 when Phil said “well – I’ll book you for now until we find an agent.” Tetzeli was not that heavily involved yet, but It wasn’t until I did a Mary Chapin Carpenter tour, in 2018, that I really met him and got to know him.”
“When people ask me about goals, I want to grow slow, because I’ve seen the guys that shoot up really fast, and like you said – it’s just about maintaining this family. John Prine, is like, for me, a big hero and someone to look to as a blueprint. The goal for me is to simply keep doing what I’m doing and with each time, the jumps you’re taking, are not too lofty, or too unrealistic and I don’t care – I just want it to be the right room for that town. Obviously, I don’t want to overplay a market or venue – that’s huge for me. We all know it’s so much nicer to play to 300 people in a 300-seater than to 2,000 people in a 10,000-seater. We know that, but some people forget about that and think – I just gotta play Red Rocks. I don’t care what it takes!”
“Goals are a funny thing. I think people can get confused and distracted by them. I think the best goal is to just stay on the course that you’re on. I love making records, I love making live records and I just want to keep doing that.”
Are you more interested in exposing yourself to new audiences, by performing at smaller individual dates, or finding great opening slots?
“In regard to supporting slots for other artists – I don’t love doing them – because, unless it’s something that is a really really good fit, I’m just not into it – maybe it’s not the smartest business move. I’ve taken a few supporting slots and my crowd does come, but it’s overshadowed by the headliner and the crowd can be talking, which I understand – it’s their show…. but for my crowd, that know me, they end up paying more for less of a great show – so I tend to say no to most opening slots.”
“Although when a Jack Johnson, or Mary Chapin Carpenter opening slot comes along, it’s very easy to say yes, because we mesh so well and those crowds are so sweet. It works both ways, as my crowd is going to love them and their crowd likes me. Now this may sound a little cocky, but after playing the Gorge, Merriweather Post, or Forest Hills, as the opener, I just realized I’d rather not play those places yet, because you lose the intimacy. I can’t get into it like I want – the storytelling part – it just doesn’t work.”
“For example, last summer I opened at Red Rocks, and what happens when you reach a certain level of people, say it’s over 3,000, or something – everyone’s very excited which is cool – it’s human nature and they’re like a powder keg of cheering, which is cool, right…. like you can go out there – when you’re in places like that and say – St. Louis!! – or – How ya doing! and everybody cheers! The problem with doing even subtle comedy, with those crowds, is that they cheer more than they laugh. You know in one of my songs I talk about the Grateful Dead, but in a crowd like that – just mentioning the Grateful Dead would get a twenty-second roar, which is cool, but it throws off the timing of the joke I’m weaving – about the song I’m singing. I don’t mean to sound spoiled, but after a while – I start thinking, I can’t wait to get back to my Aladdin theaters, etc., even if it means playing seven nights in a row. Unless you’re ready to commit to the set designers and the massive show, well that changes everything and I don’t wanna take away from what I’m doing now and the intimate relationship I have with my audiences.”
“I want to take time, building my core audience. It’s more important than opening up for say, Jack Johnson, or Mary. I told Jack that it’s kind of intimidating to play to 18,000 people, especially when nobody knows who you are,” and Jack said.
“It’s almost a blessing in a way that I don’t have a major hit because everybody that comes to my headlining shows, has a pretty solid grasp on my catalog and they’re there to see me for that.”
I was struck by both the simplicity and complexity of Craigie’s songwriting style, but he’s also funny as hell. Through his humor, he unexpectedly lures his audience into paying attention to a complex range of songs. Craigie uses creative conversations and banter to bring you into his orbit.
Have you ever had any aspirations of writing comedy?
Actually, one of my dreams would still probably be to write for SNL, or for a comedy show.
Did this happen naturally, as you developed your performances over the years, or was this all premeditated? And if it wasn’t premeditated and you know it works – do you put effort into preparing your conversations in between songs, to keep your audiences engaged, or more importantly, building a long-term, close relationship, with your audience – or is it now both for you?”
“My dad was always funny and he was a very good storyteller and I liked that, and I assume that’s where my sense of humor comes from. Also, from elementary school onwards I was not the cool kid in school, or very good at academics, or sports, so I found humor useful. I was the class clown and I liked the feeling of making teachers and students laugh. I just became known as – that guy. “
“I discovered the guitar at sixteen and fell in love with it. I was obsessed with music and at twenty-four I started to tour around. I was not very good at all, and I wasn’t really impressing anybody at that time. I was playing in coffee shops and small bars, and I wanted to be funny because I knew I could be. When playing small gigs, people are always talking, or not paying attention and when I started talking to the audience, people were like -well that’s really weird, this guy’s talking, but I found this is the way you can draw people in. Then about three, or four years in, I started to write songs inspired by Arlo Guthrie, Loudon Wainwright, Todd Snider – you know all these guys who I thought were writing really witty songs and I said, let’s try some of that.”
This is not a schtick, the rapport you build with your audience is absolutely real and organic – it never feels forced. Do you realize how important this is to both your audience, in building that relationship, and is it important to you?”
“Yeah, yeah, for me it’s the safest part of the show. I was kind of joking about it last night and it feels the most natural…right… it’s very human. When I start singing, that’s when I get a little self-conscious, because I think that’s a very strange human-to-human interaction – like if you and I were just sitting here and I just started singing at you – that would kind of be weird, right? But if there were thirty people or more, that’s not so weird.”
“I was never deemed a singer… like there was no talent in the family… I wasn’t a great singer at the start, but my voice grew over time and I’m happy with my voice now, but I never felt that super confident about my voice, or guitar playing.” I’m always kind of surprised at musicians who don’t talk. I love the spontaneity of each gig because that venue and crowd will never be reproduced again, so it’s important to embrace each gig uniquely.”
Do you have any producers that you’d like to work with?
“At this point, I know what I want. I haven’t gotten to a point yet where I’m not sure where I want to go, but I am open to that. I’m a huge music nerd.
I jokingly asked, “how about Steve Lillywhite?”
Craigie chuckles “I’d talk to him! You know there’s Jonathan Wilson, I like that guy. Phil knows his guys and I like his music, as well as his producing.
John performed at the Newport Folk Festival for the first time this past summer. Craigie believes in that community and the chance they give all newcomers. The Newport audience also believes that John Craigie is a leader of the new generation of signer songwriters and I believe you will too once you experience him live.
Without a doubt, Craigie is the future of the modern folk movement.
He can transcend even those heights, previously reached by the giants that came before him, and cross over into mainstream relevance. The world is ready to discover Craigie and fall in love with him and his music, just like his loyal fans have already discovered.
OCT 06 – Le Pop-Up du Label – Paris, France
OCT 07 – Muziekcentrum Trix – Antwerpen, Belgium
OCT 08 – Tuinzaal – Amsterdam, Netherlands
OCT 09 – Der Aa-Theater – Groningen, Netherlands
OCT 11 – Blue Shell – Archdioces Cologne, Germany
OCT 12 – NOCHTWACHE – Hamburg, Germany
OCT 13 – Loppen – Copenhagen, Denmark
OCT 15 – Badehaus Berlin – Berlin, Germany
OCT 16 – Café V lese – Prague, Czechia
OCT 17 – Haus Der Musik – Sankt Johann im Pongau, Austria
OCT 18 – Feierwerk Orangehouse – Pasing, Germany
OCT 20 – Kiff – Aarau, Switzerland
OCT 21 – La Parenthèse – Nyon, Switzerland
OCT 22 – Klimperstube – March, Germany
OCT 24 – The Greys – Brighton, United Kingdom
OCT 25 – The Louisiana -Bristol, United Kingdom
OCT 27 – Sidney & Matilda – Sheffield, United Kingdom
OCT 28 – Omeara – London, United Kingdom
OCT 29 – Gullivers – Manchester, United Kingdom
OCT 30 – The Hug and Pint – Glasgow, United Kingdom
NOV 02 – The Workmans Cellar – Temple Bar, Ireland
NOV 03 – Winthrop Avenue – Cork, Ireland
NOV 04 – The American Bar – Belfast, United Kingdom
NOV 09 – Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery – Santa Fe, NM
NOV 10 – The Historic Lobo Theater – Albuquerque, NM
NOV 11 – Coconino Center For the Arts – Flagstaff, AZ
NOV 12 – Crescent Ballroom – Phoenix, AZ
NOV 13 – 191 Toole – Tucson, AZ
NOV 16 – Belly Up – Solana Beach, CA
NOV 17 – Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA
NOV 18 – Harold J. Miossi Cultural and Performing Arts Center (CPAC) at Cuesta College – San Luis Obispo, CA
NOV 19 – The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA
DEC 01 – Hollywood Theatre – Vancouver, BC
DEC 02 – Neptune Theatre – Seattle, WA
DEC 03 – Roseland Theater – Portland, OR
DEC 08 – Tower Theatre – Bend, OR
DEC 09 – Historic Ashland Armory – Ashland, OR
DEC 10 – Hult Center for the Performing Arts – Eugene, OR
DEC 16 – Ogden Theatre – Denver, CO
DEC 17 – Washington’s FoCo – Fort Collins, CO
FEB 02 2023 – The Egyptian Theatre – Boise, ID
FEB 03 2023 – Center for the Arts – Jackson, WY
FEB 04 2023 – The State Room (Night 1) – Salt Lake City, UT
FEB 05 2023 – The State Room (Night 2) – Salt Lake City, UT
MAR 01 2023 – Van Duzer Theatre – Arcata, CA