An Interview With Folk Musician John Craigie
A modern folk singer with a charitable streak, John Craigie speaks to Marin Magazine before his upcoming show at the August Hall in San Francisco.
John Craigie is a folk music singer-songwriter who has toured with Jack Johnson. Not only does his music have a lot of heart, but the musician also gives back in a bigger way through his #KeepItWarm2018 tour, which partners with local organizations that support the homeless on his 19 city tour. Some of his most well-known albums include No Rain, No Rose, and his collaborative live album with Jack Johnson, I Wrote Mr. Tambourine Man.
ER: John Craigie, I am a huge fan. When a friend of mine complained recently about a disappointing Bob Dylan show, wondering if there were any good singer-songwriters out there, I sent him your Opening for Steinbeck (Live) album. The tagline on your website is: "Humorous storytelling, serious folk," and I think your genius really is being able to engage your audience with both hilarity and true sentimentality. How were you able to weave that together and develop that balance as an artist?
JC: In the beginning, I didn’t use any humor in my shows. I was coming out of a childhood in the 90s where most music was very serious and if humor was used it was in the case of someone like Adam Sandler or Weird Al. So I kept everything very serious, and very song based. I was always the funny kid amongst my friend group and I just needed some proof that humor could be mixed in with songwriting and performance and the artist could still be taken seriously. When I got to Santa Cruz for college at age 18, I was introduced to the Americana genre with artists like John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, Todd Snider, and Greg Brown – all musicians who were taken seriously, but were able to make the audience laugh when it worked. Then it was just a matter of time as I honed my storytelling skills to bring that into my live show.
ER: How did your life change after touring with Jack Johnson? And did people really think your name was John Gravy?
JC: After the Jack Johnson tour, I went back to my normal way of touring: small clubs, in the towns that I had been working in over the years. I did see a significant increase in ticket sales and festival offers. I think that kind of exposure is incredible and even though only a percentage of Jack’s crowd would be into what I do, it’s still a large number. It’s been great to be able to bring my show to his fans that decided to cross over.
Like the story goes, that one guy thought it was John Gravy, and claimed that the rest of the crowd heard that too. I’ll never know for sure how many people thought that. I have had lots of funny mishearings of my name. “Junk Reggae” is another one of my favorites.
ER: You joke on the Opening for Steinbeck (Live) album that you'll never hold another election party after the one you threw in 2016 – any chance you're holding a mid-term election party, a smaller affair, just to dip your toe back in the election party pool?
JC: I’m afraid not. I realized I’m not the election party type. It’s just not a night for parties. Too stressful, too intense. But I am excited to vote next week and to encourage others to vote through my social media. That’s my kind of party.
ER: Your election party story was a great intro for the song "Presidential Silver Lining". Do you think it is the responsibility of artists to try to write about what's happening politically in America? How do you do it and not get overwhelmed?
JC: I’m not sure responsibility is the right word. Every artist comes with a slightly different talent and purpose and brings that to their audience. I think your message comes in the best way you have to put it out there. That might be a painting, an interpretive dance, an instrumental. But for me, I do feel like it is my talent and purpose to be topical with my words. So in that moment I felt a call to speak out and acknowledge this intense thing that everyone was going through. I do get overwhelmed. All the time. But sometimes the overwhelming is what encourages you to do things about it.
ER: You almost stole some weed from Todd Snider – while collaborating recently, did you try to steal anything from Gregory Alan Isakov?
JC: Gregory is a good friend to me and I probably wouldn’t need to steal anything from him. He’d probably give me whatever I needed. I do feel like “I Am California” (which I began writing at his house) does steal a bit of his essence. I don’t normally write songs that pretty or that melodic. I do feel grateful for his influence on me and what I’ve written since meeting him.
ER: What's next?
JC: I’ve got this big west coast tour that will close out the year for me. Then I’ll get some time off before starting 2019 with an Alaskan and Hawaiian tour.
John Craigie is playing Saturday, November 10, 2018 at August Hall, a new venue in San Francisco’s Union Square; doors open at 7:00pm, show starts at 8:00. The all ages show costs $20 and is part of the #KeepItWarm2018 Tour, with special guests Rainbow Girls, and Anna Tivel. Raphael House will be at Craigie's August Hall show Saturday November 10th, 2018 collecting new children's socks and shoes and new children's clothing (including winter items like hats, scarves, jackets. All who donate will receive a FREE signed John Craigie tour poster and be entered to win a special merch bundle donated by John Craigie.