Above: Craigie performing at the 2023 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (photo by Bobby Cochran)

Of all the places and experiences shaping John Craigie’s musical journey, one special spot stands out: a lovely meadow in the redwoods at UC Santa Cruz.

“My childhood was pretty square,” said Craigie (Crown ’02, mathematics), a self-described “nerdy kid” and “class clown” who loved listening to music and reading mysteries and adventure stories in the quiet Los Angeles suburb of Westchester. “I talk to other people I meet now who are musicians, whose parents played instruments or they were attending jams and stuff like that. I just didn’t have that where I was, so music felt like a dream in the same way you would think of being a movie star.”

“Santa Cruz is very significant to me,” said Craigie. “Behind the Crown College dorms … there was this really beautiful meadow surrounded by trees…. I have so many good memories of music just being a very normal and casual thing that everyone did there.” (Photo by Bobby Cochran)

Craigie learned guitar from a friend in high school and realized he could write and play his own songs. But in a city known for its entertainment industry, the music scene felt competitive and intense to him. UCSC’s encouraging environment, social culture, and natural beauty inspired him as he studied mathematics and encountered other student musicians.

“Santa Cruz is very significant to me,” said Craigie. “Behind the Crown College dorms, you walked on a little path and there was this really beautiful meadow surrounded by trees. That was a common place that you would go, day or night, and I have so many good memories of music just being a very normal and casual thing that everyone did there. It was not a big deal to share, and that really helped me feel more confident in what I was doing.”   

Building on this newfound confidence, Craigie formed a jam band—Pond Rock—with UCSC friends and started playing at house parties, Kresge Town Hall, and Stevenson open mics. He brought his guitar to poetry class and performed some original poems as songs. And he discovered the eclectic local KPIG-FM radio station, which exposed him to a wide variety of folk, blues, rock, and Americana. 

After graduating, Craigie worked at UCSC, then taught math at Watsonville High School until he’d saved enough to buy an Astro van, and set out on a solo folk-music tour of coffee shops and bars across the country. 

“I felt like I was living one of those Steinbeck books or adventure stories I had read as a kid,” Craigie said. “I was making very little money and didn’t have much of a fan base at that time, but it was really like a dream come true for me.”

Now living in Portland, Ore., with nine studio albums to his credit, Craigie keeps a notebook handy to catch lines, ideas, and whole songs as they come.

Playing live music, sharing songs and stories with audiences, and hearing from people who find solace in his music are particularly rewarding to Craigie. He also stresses the value of humor in his shows, and in life.

“Humor is the universal connector,” he said. “The world is a very heavy and stressful, intense place and I think people feel a little safer sometimes, their guard comes down a little bit, when we’re all laughing together.”

This year, Craigie released an album (Pagan Church) in January, is recording a new album, has a full slate of domestic and international shows, and is particularly excited about touring in Europe and Australia. Each spring, he covers and records a Beatles album in a live show and releases it on vinyl for Record Store Day. And his annual Keep It Warm tour supports regional nonprofits fighting food insecurity.

In this critical election year, Craigie is also using his gifts of humor, storytelling, and music to help get out the vote and register voters with HeadCount

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.