About Joe Craven
Joe Craven wears many hats and plays many things. He’s a madman with anything that has strings attached, including hospital bed pans, gas cans, cookie tins, roasting pots, fiddles, mandolins, tenor guitars, saz, cuatro and a world of percussion instruments including animal bones, latex squeeze toys, cake pans, waste cans, umbrella stands, martini shakers and…Himself. His stage setup more often resembles a yard sale. But there’s more to Craven than meets the ear. Visual artist, former museum curator, educator, motivational speaker, storyteller and festival emcee, Joe’s work is born out of respect and reverence and seeks to honor the creative energy in everyone. An advocate of the folk arts, Joe’s educational 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.
For almost 17 years, Joe Craven was the highly respected multi-instrumentalist with the David Grisman Quintet… yeah, Joe was the guy with the Ralph Stanley autographed bongos and fiddle. Having played and/or recorded with Jerry Garcia, Stéphane Grappelli, Maria Muldaur, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, The Persuasions, Psychograss, The Alison Brown Quartet, Darol Anger, Rob Ickes, Bob Brozman, spoken word maven Ken Nordine and many others, Joe’s phone rings often for studio work and he has performed music & sound effects on a wide variety of recordings including commercials, soundtracks, computer games and several Grammy nominated projects.
In music, Joe is a bit like Indiana Jones; a musical archeologist going on wild adventures with his finds. More a re-composer and recycler of music as object and idea, Joe believes that “Music that’s informally made and shared is a hallmark of folk music and it is this spirit of art making that leads to the more creative life of not just art consumer but art maker as well. Anyone’s life stories can be wrought into amazing tunes and songs – shared and handed down through observation and imitation – then embellished/altered with different versions through time. That’s where the new music comes from. When you learn other people’s music you learn about your own” . His own wildly varied recordings are testimonies to this folk music philosophy. They stretch the boundaries of musical style while paying tribute to and helping forward evolving musical traditions.
Joe Craven performs material from his release CAMPTOWN – a collection of traditional fiddle tunes set to an international panorama of world inspired rhythms and instrumentation, and MO’ JOE – a project of wildly different interpretations for American folk songs. His latest CD is DJANGO LATINO – a Latin interpretation of the compositions of gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli. Joe shatters musical boundaries while honoring folk, jazz and world traditions, performing solo, as a duo with bassist and pianist Sam Bevan and with his various groups. His long-standing trio consists of John R. Burr, of the Alison Brown Quartet, on keyboards and key bass; and Kendrick Freeman on drums and percussion.
Joe is also a festival emcee, where he began as an “after hours” host at the “Strawberry” Music Festival and, since then, has been a master of ceremonies at the “Live Oak”, “Pine Mountain”, “Millpond”, and “High Sierra” Music Festivals in California, the “Harvest Festival” in Georgia, “Rockygrass” in Colorado and the “Old Settler’s Festival” in Austin, Texas.
Joe began performing in rock bands on electric guitar and an amp the size of his mom’s refrigerator during his high school years. At the University of South Carolina, Joe received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Museology and Aesthetics. Tired of playing America’s most popular instrument (the guitar) Joe’s mandolin was an impulse buy. Upon completing his degree in 1979, Joe moved West. He played mandolin in blues and rock bands, acoustic string bands, even casino lounge acts, while writing grants, mounting exhibits, teaching and cleaning toilets at The Nevada Museum of Art in Reno. He later managed an art gallery and, after that, as a visual artist, exhibited his own work from San Francisco to Santa Fe.
A few of his own paintings now adorn the walls of Joe’s Northern California home, along with a riot of colorful Indonesian and Tibetan masks, kachinas, large-brimmed hats of all kinds, historical string and percussion instruments, bookcases filled with tomes on art, eclectic CDs, old cowboy boots, pictures of his family of six at various ages, and other family memorabilia. Joe’s house is a virtual museum of personal, musical and multi-cultural artifacts and a visual testament to the diversity of his creative explorations.
As an educator, Joe’s clinics, workshops and school presentations on music participation have captivated audiences around the country. He’s worked with students from preschool to adult in a variety of settings. He completed his first artist in residency at California State University – Chico to rave reviews and has expanded his educational outreach to museums and music camps ranging from fiddle to percussion to song school. According to Joe, “Music is imagination, expression, therapy and living in the creative spirit. It doesn’t need labels as much as it needs opportunity. Through exploration, sincerity of application, AND practice you can make music on just about anything.” And he’s proven his point by playing everything from dashboards to squeeze toys to his head. “It’s great to just pick up things like an empty water jug, garden tools or your pet and discover their inherant musical qualities, as well as your own,” he says. “It’s not the thing, but the process of how you connect with it that makes great music.
Don’t throw it away – redefine it as a musical tool – teach it to a child – leave it as a gift.”
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