Farther down the road
Local guitarist Sid Lewis teams with Bay Area multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven for a down-home night of acoustic music
Chico will play host to some special acoustic music Saturday night, when nationally acclaimed fiddler/mandolinist/percussionist Joe Craven and local bluegrass veteran Sid Lewis collaborate as a duo at the intimate Chico Women’s Club.
This will be their first public performance as Craven & Lewis, in what promises to be a high-energy homespun affair. The two met at a summer festival and shared some common musical ground during a late-night jam session. Lewis requested a lesson from Craven, and that lesson turned into an audition. And that led to this concert.
“We talked about finding Sid a vignette, a setting to demonstrate his talents and learn how I tick musically,” Craven said. “So, we would do a show, an evening as a duo, and have a musical conversation.”
Lewis is excited about the venue, the Chico Women’s Club, which can accommodate about 150 patrons.
“It’ll be a community tribal gathering,” Lewis said. “Like we’re hanging out with the folks at home, a Strawberry acoustic-festival, down-home feel. Americana will be twisted into international improvisation.”
Craven, who’s played for a dozen years with superstar mandolinist David Grisman and his quintet and played in a couple of ensembles with Jerry Garcia, said that no album or tour is planned with Lewis, but he’s happy to come back to Chico for the event. Thoroughly familiar with the area, Craven most recently came through town last fall, playing percussion and fiddle with the David Grisman Quintet.
Lewis, who said he was “raised on a bus by hippie parents,” has played a fusion of bluegrass, folk and jazz for several years and is a regular at music festivals all over Northern California. Two weeks ago at the Senator Theater, Cajun jammers Leftover Salmon invited Lewis on stage. That was a blast, he said. “I was ready for ‘Shenandoah Breakdown,'” Lewis said. “I forgot how unpredictable they are. Vince [Herman] made up a crazy rap song about putting a possum in a blender. Those guys are wacky geniuses.”
Lewis hosts an open-mike jam session every Tuesday at Chico’s Shadetree Restaurant and teaches acoustic guitar, mandolin and banjo at his Acoustic College. He has also recently teamed up with his brother Bythos, who recently moved to Chico, to form an electric band, the Lewis Brothers. He encourages other musicians by example and urges other folks to get out and play.
“This style of music is inclusive,” Lewis said. “It’s never too late to pick up mandolin and banjo. I want people to come away from this show inspired to do it themselves.”
Craven has affection for Chico. He’s visited many times over the years, and a couple of years ago he settled here for a week in an educational capacity.
“It was made possible by a grant,” Craven said. “It was a wonderful experience, doing a residency—a week of outreach. [We did] everything from public schools, K-12, to civic organizations. We’d give pep talks and workshops and plead the case of supporting the arts.”
Coming to town to play with Lewis was an easy choice. "I appreciate what he does here as an educator with his Acoustic College," Craven said. "He’s looking for opportunities to further himself, and one way is to play with musicians who are perhaps farther down the road."