John Craigie: Telling Stories and Singing Folk Songs

Vortex Music Magazine

The traveling troubadour has been able to quell his wanderlust thanks to the home he's found in Portland—one that's full of friendship and inspiration from the likes of Shook Twins, Fruition, Kat Fountain, Brad Parsons and Bart Budwig.

John Craigie is a traveling man. Born in Santa Monica, subsequent years saw him bouncing around the great state of California, performing in the 49 others, and touring abroad, ultimately spending four years on the road prior to settling in Portland. And along the way, he’s picked up a few friends.

“You have those friends who you always want to record with,” Craigie explains. It’s just rare that you’re ever able to get them all in one place at one time.

Yet for four days and nights, his old Victorian home in SE Portland played host to a stellar cast of folksy Portlanders including Shook Twins, Kat Fountain, Brad Parsons, Jay Cobb Anderson and Tyler Thompson of Fruition, Niko Daoussis, Justin Landis, John Nuhn, and Bart Budwig, plus a few friends from the road—notably Bevin Foley of Trout Steak Revival and Gregory Alan Isakov.

Craigie's Portland family at the Doug Fir on December 15 celebrating the release of 'No Rain, No Rose' over a month early in front of a sold-out hometown crowd—click to see more photos by Jessie McCallCraigie's Portland family at the Doug Fir on December 15 celebrating the release of 'No Rain, No Rose' over a month early in front of a sold-out hometown crowd—click to see more photos by Jessie McCallCraigie wanted his fifth studio record to be a Portland record, one that featured the new friends he’d made in the past three years. Although there are songs about astronauts and groupie grandmas and pristine guitars, “These are all Portland songs—it captures me at that time,” he describes. And really, each song is just part of a longer story—one Craigie will readily regale you with when you see him live.

Now, here’s how the recording went down: Engineer Budwig brought all the necessary gear over to Craigie’s house and set up in the living room, utilizing an adjacent guest room as his control room. “People just came over and we would cook food and then play some tunes and then take a break,” Craigie explains of the casual proceedings.

The result is a loose, natural documentation of intimate moments—including banter between songs—where the supporting cast fleshes out Craigie’s tried-and-true staple of harmonica and acoustic guitar. The company serves to bolster his rambling musings, humor and social commentary, all of which is cleverly woven into his steadfast, genuine songwriting.

'No Rain, No Rose' self-released on January 27'No Rain, No Rose' self-released on January 27The players on No Rain, No Rose are “my Portland family and I was getting to know them as friends but also as musicians” during the process of making this album, Craigie says. Yet seeing as he was the newbie in town, “I was lucky enough that these people were all friends and they already had [a solid] dynamic. Some of them were closer with each than with me, and sometimes I would just lay back and trust them ’cause they knew what they were doing.”

“The thing about the people on the record was not just that they were good, but that they were really honest musicians,” he says. Emotions, both somber and uplifting, were laid bare, and this authenticity shines as Craigie uses “tragedy to make great art, and feel better about the future”—taking the good times with the bad. Just as without some “really shitty winters,” there’d be no sweetness in Portland springs and summers. Whenever Craigie wonders, “How is this place so beautiful?” He remembers, “Because we have to go through some shit.” In other words, No Rain, No Rose.

In the end, “My hope is that people are put in that living room with us so it’s not just an album of songs, but it’s also about friends laughing together and making jokes.” And while Craigie has long felt at home on the road, this record is an ode to a city that now feels like home. It’s felt good to lay some roots, “but most important is the community—that’s what has kept me here.”

As you'd expect, Craigie is currently touring in support of 'No Rain, No Rose'—don't miss two of his free shows as part of the McMenamins Great Northwest Music Tour: at the Kennedy School on Thursday, March 16 and at Edgefield's Blackberry Hall on Wednesday, March 22.

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