By: Justin Hicken
John Craigie is a one of a kind singer-songwriter, comedian, and storyteller. His well-balanced mix of folk songs and comical stories make for a wonderful evening and that’s absolutely why John Craigie and his audience were all smiles at the State Room for a rare seated show on Wednesday night September 18th.
Craigie felt right at home: “I enjoy summer, but the darker colder weather is better for folk music. This is where I belong, in a dark, dimly lit room,” Craigie explained. “Ideally I would play to a group of people that just went through a break-up.” While Craigie enjoys the darker days of fall and winter, he did mention that there is one day that he doesn’t ever care to play on – Valentine’s day. “My music is not meant for lovers, and people cuddling.” Ironically Craigie’s good buddy Gregory Alan Isakov called John up earlier this year and invited him to open for night one of a two-night stint at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Craigie said that he really was torn about it but eventually bit the bullet for Greg and opened for his friend. The irony of the story was that I personally attended the show on Valentine’s day and I mentioned it to John. After the show, he told me that that night was one of his favorite live versions of ‘I Am California’ that he ever performed. This was due in part to performing it with Gregory who sings backing vocals on the original recording.
Craigie opened up with his famous opener ‘Dissect the Bird’ – a funny dialogue he has with himself including this lyric: “This is the first song, this is the moment of truth if this one fails what good will the rest of them do. I’m tryna stay focused and stay in the moment but all I can think about is if my fly is open…”
Craigie went on to share stories about how he’ll go play festivals but they’re not his first choice because he usually gets the worst time slots. “I either playing at 9 AM or 3 AM…to the people on zero drugs or every drug…can I just play to the people on maybe one drug?” John shared how he was finally excited to play one festival…the 50th anniversary of Woodstock…he couldn’t figure out how he received the invite and was really bummed when the event fell through…this led him into a great audience participation song ‘Woodstock Baby’.
Craigie did dig deep into in catalog which he’s been adding songs to since his debut album in 2009. “I remember playing in a little coffee shop up here about 10 years ago…was anybody there?” A few cheers rang out and fans let him know that he played at Sugar House Coffee.
Having seen Craigie in San Francisco, and now with a more conservative Utah, I would say that he does play to his audience’s political tastes. His song painting Alexandria Ocasio Cortez as a witch cooking up spells had the crowd heavy with laughter: “Ohhhh so scary…oh be wary… of Alexandria Ocasio… Alexandria Ocasio… Alexandria Ocasio…..Cortez!!!”
Craigie played a fun game with the audience where he asked who came the furthest to see the show. After narrowing it down between Alaska and Washington D.C. he decided that the Alaska audience member was a winner and let her pick a song that she wanted to hear. While I don’t remember the title of it (There was no official setlist as Craigie played off the cuff), it seemed like it was a pretty deep track as Craigie mentioned he would do his best to remember it but that if he forgot any of the lyrics he would reach out to the requester for help. He actually pulled it off with just a small hiccup or two.
Another fun bit was Craigie explaining “coming out” as a musician to his fairly conservative parents. He says it’s always good to see them when he plays shows in Southern California, but that it took them some time to warm up to him as a musician.
While I wasn’t able to keep track of the whole set, I do know that Craigie also performed ‘Westbound Bart’, and concluded with ‘I Wrote Mr. Tambourine Man’.
After a brief break for an encore, he came out and concluded with ‘I Am California.”
Craigie was kind enough to sign merch, take pictures and chat with anybody who wished to speak with him at the merch table after the show.
John said that he can’t wait to come back to Utah, and if you enjoy great folk music, good storytelling, and a few laughs along the way, then I would strongly recommend catching his show the next time he comes through.