Hot July night…beautiful outdoor venue…an angelic-voiced crooner treating his friends to songs old and new, his own and popular favorites...This lucky fan got to attend Mike’s first solo concert in 14 years! Mike alone made all the music, just like he does on his new Wagoner’s Lad CD. We listeners got to shiver at the high, high tune in a longer version of the traditional "Lord Gregory" than appears on the album. Even as you hear it happening, you wonder if it’s possible for him to hit all those high notes so perfectly. Did anyone else wish we’d taken advantage of the dance floor in front of the stage for a waltz during "Dewberry Place?" We did laugh with "Leadville Mine" and "That Wicky Wacky Hula Hula Honka Wonka Honolulu Hawaiian Honey of Mine, and sing along to the North Carolina state song "The Good Old North State." He shared the unnatural pairing of Tom Waits' "Burma Shave" with Rodgers and Hart's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" and impressed his old friends with the blend. The audience got the jokes in some lyrics—we showed him we were hanging on every word. Mike would try to shush the applause with a soft “Thank you” way before we wanted to quit. All too soon it was over, and we got to wander backstage to let him know how special it was to have been there. Again, soon, Mike?
From the concert program...
Mike Craver’s turn on the NCMA’s stage this evening marks an all-too-rare public performance by one of North Carolina’s most talented singer/songwriters. For longtime Triangle residents who followed the Red Clay Ramblers during the first half of their notable career, tonight’s concert brings the return of an old and dear friend. Craver performed with the Ramblers from 1973-1986, playing piano and guitar and adding a warm and pure vocal element to the band’s eclectic and original sound. He also penned some of the group’s most memorable songs. Toward the end of his tenure with the Blurs, he recorded a wonderful solo album for Flying Fish records titled Fishing for Amour. The Washington Post called it “witty, intimate, enormously appealing cabaret.”
Craver then spread his wings and landed in New York City where he co-authored and costarred in the Oil City Symphony, an off-Broadway musical that ran for a year and a half and won the Drama Desk award and an Outer Critics Circle award. With Mark Hardwick, he co-wrote his second show, Radio Gals, which captured the Los Angeles Ovation Award in 1996. Both shows continue to appeal to audiences throughout the country. And in another creative twist, Craver co-authored with Mark Hardwick and Debra Monk a children’s book titled Beaver Ball at the Bug Club that was illustrated by Joan Kaghan and published by Farrar Straus & Giroux.
Craver’s talents have been widely acknowledged. Garrison Keillor, patriarch of A Prairie Home Companion, once said that “Mike Craver has this amazing ability to write songs of a period that are so perfect and so exact, almost better than the originals.” Which brings us to this important announcement: Craver has just completed his second solo recording since 1984, a CD this time, of course, which makes its debut tonight. It’s called Wagoner’s Lad, and in the ecstatic words of Joe Vanderford, music critic for the Independent: “Pardon the sound of one critic gushing, but Wagoner’s Lad is the finest disc I’ve heard this year—bar none. It’s one of those delightfully indulgent one-man-band recitals in the tradition of literate auteurs like McCartney and Rundgren.
“Over a simple backdrop of guitar, piano and subtle electronics, Craver unleashes a truly remarkable voice. Imagine the heart-bending yelp of Art Garfunkel in his choirboy prime or the boundless falsetto of Brazilian songbird Milton Nascimento as it wings heavenward. That’s heady company for sure, but Craver’s unwavering pitch and rounded tone earn him a lofty perch next to the elite singers of pop.”
Welcome home, Mike. We’re glad to see you.
July 18, 1999