.A Big Return

Former UCSC student John Craigie plays the Rio

John Craigie, a KPIG favorite, known for his hilarious stories and sorrowful ballads, is making his return to Santa Cruz for one special night, put on by KPIG and the Catalyst Club on June 14 at the Rio Theater.

The former UCSC student, who graduated in 2002 and hasn’t performed in Santa Cruz since 2022, is excited to be coming back to the Central Coast for these shows.

“It feels great. A lot has changed since I lived there, but it’s a beautiful place and I think it’ll always be special to me. Rio especially because I saw so many shows there when I was young. And always dreamed about playing there. It’s always just magical.”

Originally from a “not very hip part of LA,” Craigie began playing the guitar at age 16 and would go frequently to mainstream rock concerts. However, he credits his time at UCSC and living in Santa Cruz for opening his eyes to the indie art scene that was booming at the time.

“There were always so many cool bands coming through. Even though I grew up in Los Angeles, Santa Cruz was where I had my awakening of going to see live music, just because it was so accessible.”

The first time Craigie felt that he wanted to develop his style of telling comedic stories and contrasting them with sorrowful ballads was early on, when he saw Arlo Guthrie live at the Rio.

“I was probably 19 or 20 and I had been going to a lot of Snazzy [Productions] shows, listening to a lot of KPIG, alternative songwriters and Americana. And I saw Arlo Guthrie at the Rio. I had been aware of him and that style of being humorous and talking, but I had never been to a show like that and I do remember leaving that show with this idea that you could tell stories and be funny, while also singing songs and being serious and sad.”

Other artists Craigie saw and admired during his time as a student in Santa Cruz helped pave the way for him to find his style as a musician as well.

“These storytellers in my youth inspired me. Before I came to Santa Cruz, it was the ’90s in LA and I wasn’t from a very hip world, so I listened to the mainstream. I’d go see Pearl Jam, Blink, Smash Mouth—that stuff was influential in the sense that it was music and I like music. But getting to Santa Cruz—seeing Arlo, Todd Snider, Greg Brown—was huge in the beginning. Those kinds of musicians opened my eyes to that style.”

After graduating from UCSC in 2002 with a degree in math, Craigie began teaching. While he adores teachers, he never felt like he was any good; however, he feels if he wasn’t making music he would still be a teacher.

“I was a teacher very briefly. I had a math degree from UCSC; I wasn’t very good at it, and it was the promise of a music career that gave me the courage to leave that job and do this one. So I’d still probably be a teacher, which isn’t really for me.”

Craigie, who recently wrapped international shows in Australia and Europe, never expected to get to this point in his career when he was starting out in Santa Cruz.

“I did not expect to have a career, I did not expect to have anything. I used to joke about that. That it was a dream and I’d be a farmer with a studio, selling my music at the coffee shop. It seemed very unlikely that I’d ever have anybody interested.”

As a performer, Craigie believes he has a responsibility to the audience every night to give the best show possible and never phone it in.

“I don’t remember who said this, but it was about comedy. They said, ‘Always kill,’ which is easier said than done, but I still think of that. Sometimes a musician can be too confident in feeling, ‘Yeah I’m good, my songs are good,’ and I’ve seen shows where they don’t put in effort to kill, and I think that is something that I wanna do each night, to get people to come back. It’s a lot of work, it’s expensive. I’m always thinking about the audience. They came out for this—it’s special. And for someone to come out to my show is rad and I want to honor that.”

When asked what his career would look like in the next five years, Craigie said he’s happy to be where he is today and to have the job.

“I never expected to have gone this far. I don’t have any goals, I enjoy being able to perform. Hopefully, I’m still having this conversation. Maybe I’ll play the Civic next time? That’d be cool. Maybe I dipped a little bit and I’m playing in the Crepe Place. I’ve always been a bit of a realist. I’m just happy to have a job. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing Catalyst or the Ugly Mug; if just one person is listening, I’m happy.”

During his 20-plus-year career in music, Craigie has put out nine studio albums, two live albums and two cover albums. His 2016 song “I Am California” has more than 25,000,000 listens on Spotify.

His newest record, Pagan Church, is out now on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming platforms.

John Craigie plays Friday, June 14 at 8pm at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave. Tickets are $37-$52. etix.com


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