Hangtown Music Festival’s Joe Craven dons many hats

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Hangtown Music Festival’s Joe Craven wears many hats, including fashion insultant.
Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

The annual Hangtown Music Festival returns this weekend for its seventh year of fall grooves and cheer.

The Placerville festival held Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 26-29, has made a name for itself for being an intimate experience that serves a hearty buffet of jam acts, with perennial headliners Railroad Earth joining this year’s harvest of Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Greensky Bluegrass, Turkuaz, Leftover Salmon and more. It’s a fantastical good time whose with a whimsical essence that can be distilled down into the colorful personality of its official emcee and unofficial leader, Joe Craven.

Craven is a man of many hats.

It’s my job to help people be creative and vulnerable and in the moment and realize the potential of what is already inside of them.”

In addition to the top hats and berets he dons as an emcee at Hangtown, Craven wears the hat of musician, educator, visual artist, actor, museologist, ambassador of artful living and fashion insultant. When Tahoe Onstage caught up with Craven on the phone, he was just getting back from a songwriting retreat in Colorado.

Education is one of the biggest ways Craven uses his artistry to interact with the world and he is the executive director of RiverTunes Roots Music Camp, Vocali Voice Camp, a co-director for the Wintergrass Youth Academy and a has done workshops for festivals such as Delfest. His approach goes beyond notes and scales, though, and he tries to instill in one a life of “artful living,” which focuses on creativity as a foundational skill. On the phone, Craven was exuberant and delighted in explaining how art and life can interact, and one can only expect him to be as nurturing in his lessons as he was in his explanations. “It’s my job to help people be creative and vulnerable and in the moment and realize the potential of what is already inside of them,” Craven said.

Tahoe Onstage

Joe Craven onstage at last year.

At Hangtown, Craven can be found spreading the Gospel According to Artistry in a number of ways. The multi-instrumentalist and former David Grisman bandmate is playing with his band Joe Craven and the Sometimers this year and its string-centric spark of dancing folk music is a perfect fit for the mountain festival. By nature, Craven is a musical socialite and in addition to his scheduled slots, you’ll probably find the musician popping up on any of the three stages for a song or two with just about anyone, as long as it’s right for the music.

But the artist might serve the festival best as its emcee. In the coveted role, Craven takes the stage in front of every mainstage act, decked out in some colorful and eccentric costume that embrace the theatrical element of the Halloween and harvest themed event. He then delivers mischievous and witty soliloquies about the upcoming band, acting as both its jester and champion, with a twist of his beard and a twinkle in his eye. It’s a role that sets a frolicking tone and embodies the spirit of the festival. It highlights some of the best aspects of Craven and if it feels like the role was made for him, it’s because it was.

“I’ve known the High Sierra guys for a while now. When I heard about what they were doing with Ryan (Kronenberg) and Hangtown I liked what it was, from the music to celebrating the festivities of the harvest. I floated the idea of emceeing the event and then I did it the third or fourth year. I’ve been doing it ever since,” Craven said.

Joe Craven is a unrelenting beam of creativity and compassion and has made an indelible mark on Hangtown Festival. If you are able to, stop and make a connection with this fantastic man. You might be able to catch his ear for a couple minutes, but he’ll probably catch your imagination for the rest of your life.

-Garrett Bethmann


About Garrett Bethmann

Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. He moved to Lake Tahoe in summer 2012.

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