Folk Alliance is an independent music conference and festival transpiring this weekend in Kansas City, MO, and as Saving Country Music experiences epiphanies on artists, songs, moments, or music in general, we’ll share them here with you.
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Fans of oldtimers such as Townes Van Zandt, Todd Snider, and Ray Wylie Hubbard know that when it comes to the best songwriters, they don’t just know how to put a good story into song, they know how to take a good story back out of a song to introduce a live performance. The same methods and expertise of timing, pentameter, wit, and resolution that go into the best songwriting come into play in storytelling, but void of music to hide behind or help, telling a story is where the best songwriters prove their muster and take the music experience to an entirely new level.
California-based songwriter John Craigie has perfected this art just about as good as any. On his just-released album No Rain, No Rose, you won’t hear all the excellent stories he often evokes to set up his songs. And that’s okay because the songs are worth it themselves. However live the man is dedicated to the art of story in a way that rivals even his songcraft. And it’s not just the stories themselves, some of which don’t have much of anything to do with the next song he may play, but how he delivers them—with such a dry humor, yet a underlying understanding of human quirks and eternal questions that you open your heart and ear to him, allowing the song that proceeds the story to take you somewhere you otherwise may not go.
Folk Alliance is all about stripping back the pretentiousness of musical performances and allowing the raw song to either excel or fade away in a whimper when its presented. In this environment—with songwriters playing in small hotel rooms with fans, industry, and press so close the performer can smell what they had for lunch—songwriters like John Craigie can shine or stumble, and shine is what he did in numerous moments, including his late Thursday (2-16) performance at the Sweet Beaver showcase.
And since words could never fairly articulate the moments John Craigie was able to craft for those in attendance, you can check out his live album Capricorn in Retrograde … Just Kidding … Live in Portland to see what I mean about stories that match the songs.