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Joe Craven and the Sometimes to Play in Redding

02/27/2017 12:54PM ● By Phil Reser

Spontaneous Music

March 2017
By Phil Reser
Photo courtesy of Joe Craven

Joe Craven plays the congas, bongos, shakers and just about anything else he gets his hands on. He can slap out rhythms on his face and make mind-boggling percussion sounds with his mouth. It has been said that he is a one-man rhythm section, but that is not to underestimate his talent on the mandolin and violin. 

“Music is imagination, expression, therapy and living in the creative spirit, It doesn’t need labels as much as it needs opportunity,” he says. “Through exploration, sincerity of application and practice, you can make music on just about anything.”  

Craven grew up in Atlanta during the ‘60s, listening to the music of the day. His father played guitar around the house, and in high school (after bluffing his way through a music class without ever learning to read notes), he realized that he, too, had a good ear. He began performing on electric guitar in rock bands during his high school years. At the University of South Carolina, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in museology and aesthetics, learning how art functions. 

Upon completing his degree, he moved west, continuing to play mandolin, exploring folk, bluegrass and swing for nearly two decades. He participated as a member of the David Grisman Quintet, a self-styled alternative bluegrass/acoustic jazz band inspired by Bill Monroe’s bluegrass legacy and Django Reinhard’s 1930s swing music. Craven played percussion, fiddle and at times, traded licks with Grisman on the mandolin. 

A previous winner of the Folk Alliance Far-West Performer of the Year, he has made his home in Dixon, southwest of Sacramento. He’s performed or recorded with Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, The Alison Brown Quartet, Maria Muldaur, Vassar Clements, Psychograss, Bonnie Raitt, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, David Lindley, Tom Waits, The Persuasions and many more. 

He is a sought-after studio musician who has performed music and sound effects on a wide variety of recordings, including commercials, soundtracks, computer games and several Grammy-nominated projects. His musicianship is also featured in the 2001 Sony Pictures Release, “Grateful Dawg.”

More a re-composer and recycler of music as object and idea, Craven says, “I love how the process of folk music works, pieces learned from the aural tradition of observation, homemade and handed down person to person, generation to generation; tunes and songs embellished and altered with different versions through time creating new music altogether. In the world we live in, when you learn other people’s music, you learn about your own. That’s where the new music comes from.” 

As an educator, his clinics, workshops and school presentations on music participation have captivated audiences around the country. He focuses on how to improvise with music, explaining that learning music is traditionally taught by repetition stressing accuracy. One of his main objectives is to help students become more open to the spur of the moment. 

“There are many aesthetically wounded people on this planet. Maybe someone told them that they couldn’t sing, or that they sucked, when they were 6 years old. That slap on the heart is hard to recover from. It’s like artistic paralysis. Economic recession is a reality, but allowing a recession in our ability to learn how to critically think, problem solve and see possibility is a reduction that, more than money, we can’t afford in our lives. In challenging times, there always exists the opportunity of the ‘Mother of Reinvention.’

“My passion is to help folks realize the importance of seeing art and arts education, not merely as enrichment or enhancement, but as the bedrock of one’s life. If art is approached and taught as a problem-solving mechanism, people can embrace its application as valuable, if not crucial, to all individuals. It’s difficult to create the world as it might be if we have been required to memorize the world as it is; living out of imagination instead of memory is the way to a life in pursuit of possibility.” •

Joe Craven and The Sometimers with Radim Zenkl opening 

Saturday, March 18
Pilgrim Congregional Church, Redding