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John Craigie

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Much like community, music nourishes us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It also invites us to come together under the same roof and in a shared moment. In similar fashion, John Craigie rallies a closeness around music anchored by his expressive and stirring songcraft, emotionally charged vocals, lively soundscapes, and uncontainable spirit. The Portland, OR-based singer, songwriter, and producer invites everyone into this space on his 2024 full-length album, Pagan Church. Following tens of millions of streams, sold out shows everywhere, and praise from Rolling Stone and more, he continues to captivate.

“The music is always evolving and devolving with each new record,” he observes. “With my last album Mermaid Salt, I really wanted to explore the sound of isolation and solitude as everyone was heading inside. With this record, I wanted to record the sound of everyone coming back out.”

In order to capture that, he didn’t go about it alone… 

Instead, he joined forces with some local friends. At the time, TK & The Holy Know-Nothings booked a slew of outdoor gigs in Portland and they invited Craigie to sit in for a handful of shows. The musicians instinctively identified an unspoken, yet seamless chemistry with each other. Joined by three of the five members, Craigie cut “Laurie Rolled Me a J” and kickstarted the process. With the full band in tow, they hunkered down in an old schoolhouse TK & The Holy Know-Nothings had converted into a de facto headquarters and studio, and recorded the eleven tracks on Pagan Church.

“At first, I knew ‘Laurie Rolled Me a J’ would sound great with a band, but we realized there was this chemistry between us,” Craigie recalls.

During this season, Craigie listened to everyone from JJ Cale, Michael Hurley, and The Band to Donny Hathaway and Nina Simone. He also consumed music biographies and documentaries on the likes of Ani DiFranco, John Coltrane, The Velvet Underground, and Neil Young. Now, he introduces the album with “Where It’s From.” Dusty acoustic guitar underlines his warm delivery as he warns, “Be careful with this feeling. You don’t know where it’s from.” Meanwhile, he plugs in the electric guitar on the Southern-style boogie of “While I’m Down.” Bright organ wails over a palm-muted distorted riff as he urges, “Come on and love me up while I’m down.” 

Then, there’s “Good To Ya.” Setting the scene, glowing keys give way to a head-nodding beat. He laments, “Oh babe, I was good to you,” before a bluesy guitar solo practically leaves the fretboard in flames. The album concludes with the pensive and poetic title track “Pagan Church.”  In between echoes of slide guitar, he repeats, “I sing a pagan song out in a pagan church.”

“Taylor Kingman suggested the title Pagan Church to me,” he reveals. “I liked the multiple meanings. The album cover shows all of us in front of Laurelthirst Public House in Portland, which is an important gathering place for musicians in the area. It’s almost a church in a way. However, the song has an entirely different meaning.”

An incredible journey has brought Craigie to this point. He has consistently packed venues across the country, gracing bigger stages each time he rolls through town. His annual #KeepItWarm Tour has become a holiday tradition as it supports regional non-profits focused on fighting food insecurity with a donation of $1 from each ticket purchased. Showcasing another side of his voice, he has recorded “Beatles Lonely” versions of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road,  recording these seminal albums live to sold out audiences, and releasing them on vinyl for Record Store Day 2022 & 2023. Beyond touring with Langhorne Slim, Brett Dennen, and Bella White, he has also sold out his annual river trip on the Tuolumne River, just outside of Yosemite in California and graced the bills of Newport Folk Festival, Pickathon, Mariposa Folk Festival, High Sierra Music Festival, and many more.

In the end, Craigie channels the power of community in Pagan Church.

He leaves off, “I just hope you can hear the collaboration with this amazing band of musicians and hear the energy in the songs of people who are allowed to get out and do their art again in this chaotic world.”

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