Check it out
What: Concerts by Joe Craven and Antsy McClain, filmed for broadcast on PBS
When and where: 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The Palms Playhouse, 13 Main St., Winters; and 8 p.m. Friday at the Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley
Tickets: $25 for Winters, available at Armadillo Music and Watermelon Music in Davis, Pacific Hardware in Winters, at the door, online at www.palmsplayhouse.com or 530-795-1825; $25 for Grass Valley, available at the Center for the Arts, online at http://thecenterforthearts.org/tickets or 530-274-8384, ext. 14
Musician Joe Craven — perhaps most familiar in Davis for his annual appearances as emcee and performer at the “Home for the Holidays” concerts each December, benefiting the Davis School Arts Foundation — will give a pair of solo shows this week: one at The Palms Playhouse in Winters, the other at the Center for the Arts in Grass Valley.
Craven has lived in various parts of the Davis area for years; he currently makes his home in Dixon. His son Cody is a recent graduate of Da Vinci Charter Academy (and starred as Jean Valjean in a Davis High School production of “Les Miserables”); his daughter Hattie just started seventh grade in Da Vinci’s junior high program at Emerson, and is enjoying the acclaim generated by the recent release of her debut album “Eleven,” which was recorded when she was 11 years old. (She’s since turned 12.)
Joe Craven’s own musical career goes back several decades, but he started out in a different field. Craven grew up in the Southeast, attended the University of South Carolina (in Columbia), and initially embarked on a career working in museums.
“I eventually moved out West and became the assistant curator of the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno,” he recalled. “My real passion was to train docents, write catalogs, come up with exhibition ideas and write grants for them. I wanted to make the (art) work relevant to the viewer — get people to engage.
“But I never gave up being a weekend warrior playing music,” Craven added, “and one thing led to another.”
Craven eventually became a sideman for composer/performer/bandleader David Grisman, playing percussion and violin alongside Grisman’s mandolin. Craven played with Grisman for 17 years, which led to a number of contacts and opportunities with other musicians.
Craven played dates with the celebrated French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli (1908-97), and Grappelli had played with jazz figures ranging from Django Reinhardt to Duke Ellington. Working with Grappelli put Craven in touch with the younger French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, as well as with the late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who has a strong interest in the musical style known as Americana.
Craven began making his own albums 1996; he’s now issued several discs. He continued to play with Grisman until 2004, at which point Craven began working more and more on his own in the educational field, in addition to appearing as performer and emcee at various music festivals across the country.
“I got really fascinated with the concept of teaching the idea of creativity,” Craven said, “connecting people to the idea of making music with what they were already doing, expressing rhythm in their movements through the day, and connecting to the idea that they are already great improvisers.
“We already possess great rhythm when we walk. I developed a lot of ideas based on movement improvisation and pitch … getting people to see what they’re doing as music. That’s the basic idea.
“I love giving people the ‘ah ha’ moment,” he continued. “When education is at it’s best, it is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. My work as an educator is like that. Folk music is social music, a social process, and an informal one.”
So in addition to giving concerts, Craven visits schools and universities, working with students and introducing them to exotic instruments that help expand their idea of how music can be made. These instruments include Craven’s “can-jo” (a relative of the banjo, using an old metal hominy can as the body of the instrument) to play a melody, or a jawbone (with slightly loose teeth) as a percussion instrument.
He also enjoys storytelling, and he said that in his concerts this week he will be “celebrating the idea of telling a story, using elements of theater, with different personas and different instruments. And I want it to be real relaxed, almost ‘living room-style,’ even though we’ll be in a theater-like setting.”
Filmmaker Peter Berkow will be filming the concerts featuring Craven and McClain, and editing the recorded concerts for a program that will be distributed to PBS affiliates sometime during 2014.
More than anything, Craven said, he wants people to experience “the joy of making music. It needs to be something that enhances your life, and gives you a sense of joy.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at email@example.com or 530-747-8055.