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Joe Crookston: he’s got the music in him

Having pulled a muscle in my back last Thursday, I was in no mood. The strain and pain had really taken hold by Saturday, and I found myself hard pressed to leave the house. Naturally, I had planned to attend several functions, including a Facebook men’s club gathering at Benji & Jakes ( myspace.com/benjiandjakes ) in Kauneonga Lake.

I dragged myself out there to find a huge crowd of guys having a swell time. Pizza, great conversation and a good time are always on the menu when visiting B&J’s brick oven establishment, so no surprises there. What was a surprise, however, was a bonus performance by Joe Crookston at The Old North Branch Inn ( the oldnorthbranchinn.com ). Having made a guest appearance at EagleFest in Narrowsburg, NY the day before, Crookston quickly sold out his Saturday night show at the Inn, and “hostess with the mostess” Victoria Loesser, along with promoter Jill Padua ( jillskitchen.com ), was delighted to add a second show on Sunday afternoon. That was a bonus for me, since my back was willing to let me go.

Crookston ( joecrookston.com ), born and raised in rural Ohio, discovered folk music while attending Kent State University in 1987. He set his electric guitar aside and started writing stories that morphed into songs along the way.

Crookston is an affable entertainer, and as he chatted with the audience, I found his music and lyrics to be “stories within stories” that hold the listener under his spell as he weaves personal experiences with lovely melodies, creating an atmosphere of warmth and congeniality. These personal revelations are (in my humble opinion) what make this singer-songwriter stand out. Conversing with his audience as he explains how a particular song came to be written is akin to sitting in his living room as he shares his tales of life on the road.

“Blue Tattoo” is one example of his own life intertwining with his music. A simple yet haunting story about three generations of special females in his life, “Tattoo” addresses serious issues in a gentle, loving, “folksy” way that leaves the audience thinking (and humming) long after the last notes are played. I forgot all about my back pain as the singer strummed the acoustic guitar (along with several other string instruments), inspiring the second sold-out crowd to clap and sing along as he performed two full sets (and a few encores) that included memorable titles.

“Good Luck John,” “Crooked Wooden Frame” and “Hands, Metal, Wood” spring to mind as I look back at the afternoon’s playlist. Each song stands on its own as a testament to the folk singer’s way with words. His tunes have a way of getting inside you as he bobs, weaves and stands on tiptoe, clearly feeling the music in him. Rarely standing still, Crookston can’t help but include the audience as part of his journey. No surprise then that Crookston was awarded “Album of the Year” by the International Folk Alliance for his second CD “Able Baker Charlie & Dog,” in 2009, and was selected as a “Most Wanted” performer at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in the summer of 2007.

Crookston further entertained by including a smattering of songs that have yet to be released. Taking a slight detour into country music, he illustrated his song writing process with a tune that he was “challenged” by a friend to create, with instructions that he include the words “pickup truck” “beer” and “tofu.” Never one to shy away from a dare, Joe Crookston rose to the challenge and composed an amusing ditty that, according to the man himself, has “eluded Nashville” to date. One day soon, Nashville will be sorry, as Crookston’s popularity grows with each sold out performance.

Samples of Joe Crookstons enjoyable and thought-provoking “tunes with a conscience” can be heard at lala.com, and more information regarding upcoming concert dates, history and the man behind the music can be gleaned from his website. My back still hurts a little, but I would swear that Joe Crookston’s music helped to speed the healing process. I plan to pick up his CDs on line. For me, Joe Crookston was just what the doctor ordered.

TRR photo by Jonathan Fox
Joe Crookston weaves a spell over his audience at The Old North Branch Inn in North Branch, NY. (Click for larger version)