Joe Craven will share his love of music with Chico during a three-day residency
Harlen Adams TheatreChico State
Chico, CA 95926
His music has been described as “genius.” He describes himself as a “madman.” He plays everything but the kitchen sink—including fiddle, mandolin, banjo, balalaika, mouth bow, animal bones, cake pans and umbrella stands—though Joe Craven would surely play a sink, too, if you handed him one.
A former member of the David Grisman Quintet (for almost 17 years) and a familiar face at California WorldFest in Grass Valley, Craven is more than just a great musician. Anyone who comes into contact with the multi-instrumentalist also knows his fervent dedication to bringing out the inner artist in everyone—young, old and in-between. Or, as he puts it on his Web site (joecraven.com), his mission is to “empower individuals to take possession of their own music and tell their stories by ‘demystifying’ art through self-expression as a daily ritual.”
Craven brings his special talents for both performing and teaching into play when he arrives in Chico to take part in a three-day mini-residency next week (April 28-30). Craven conducts similar residencies all over the United States, and Chico State’s Chico Performances has teamed up with Enloe Medical Center and its Planetree program to bring him to Chico to perform and enlighten the big and small folks at two Chico elementary schools, a Butte College music-theory class, Enloe Medical Center, and capping it off with a performance at Harlen Adams Theatre on April 30.
Speaking by cell phone recently while he was driving to his home in Dixon to give a music lesson (“I’m driving from Davis to Dixon, part of the Bermuda Triangle—Dixon, Davis, Winters. The black holes are the tomato fields,” is how he put it), Craven waxed profusely in his endearing way about what he’s all about.
“My work as an educator,” said Craven, who teaches, among other things, a workshop for adults called The Workshop for the Aesthetically Wounded, “is to connect people with what they already have—their story—and how to bring that out into the world.”
He uses the term “folk process” to describe not a genre of music, but the way he plays music and the way he coaxes musical performance—a person’s “story”—out of people who have never played an instrument before.
Craven is known for taking people from the audience at one of his workshops or in a classroom who have never played a musical instrument and—through a process of making them feel comfortable and teaching them some basics, such as how to draw a bow across fiddle strings and how to keep a steady, pulsing rhythm—getting them to jam with him in a duet to the rhythmic clapping and applause (and amazement, in some cases) of audience members.
“The idea of ‘folk’ to me is celebrating that each person does have a story, and that story does have value,” offered Craven, who, incidentally, is an entirely self-taught musician. “Folk music at its best has that all-inclusive nature; it’s more about sharing than performance.
“The all-inclusive nature of being with the folk process,” Craven continued passionately, “is the antithesis of American Idol, which celebrates elimination and results in a ‘winner,’ the one at the top of the heap. The [show’s] entertainment aspects of criticism and intimidation and dark, brutally frank assessments are really like the Christians being thrown to the lions. That’s what passes for sophistication on American Idol.
“Being in the process is the success,” Craven summed up. “It involves commitment, making mistakes, and finding joy in the struggle. … I teach people to be intuitive with music. If you want to know about sheet music and theory, I’m not your man.”