New York-based singer-songwriter Joe Crookston knew he was doing something right when he received a letter from Pete Seeger expressing appreciation for his music, with comments that included: “Thank you for writing songs that are human. It propels us to remember who we are.”
Folk legend Seeger, who died in January at age 94, had lauded the songs in Crookston’s acclaimed album, “Able Baker Charlie & Dog,”(2008) which won Album of the Year honors by Folk Alliance International. The title track is about Crookston’s grandfather, who was part of the crew in World War II that built the runway for the Enola Gay [the B-29 bomber that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.]
With dazzling guitar work and a clear voice, Crookston deftly meshes music and story, in a way that is both entertaining and moving. His 2011 release, “Darkling & The Bluebird Jubliee,” was also a folk charts leader and acclaimed for its stunning songwriting and music. Crookston’s highly anticipated new CD, “Georgia I’m Here,” debuts this month.
Crookston started playing guitar in high school, then majored in classical guitar performance at Kent State University. He grew up in a household with strong Hungarian and Eastern European culture, and heard the local polka radio shows on his transistor, along with his mom’s own excellent accordion playing.
“There was always polka music in the background,” he said.
But he also listened to a lot of pop and rock, and later discovered old fiddle tunes and claw hammer banjo.
“I was a huge Todd Rundgren fan, and I think it was his ‘anything goes’ approach in exploring the whole sonic landscape and world. I was also really inspired by Tom Waits, the kind of lyrical writing was very important to me. And Neil Young was a big influence with his creativity and art.”
Crookston has also been influenced by Pete Seeger in the way he approaches performance and embraces the audience.
“Pete wasn’t self-absorbed, he was about ‘us.’ He was allowing himself to be a facilitator for a community, and to me that it what I really resonate with and aim for. I feel when I perform, I’m not showcasing myself for you, but opening up a stage for us, an audience as a community, to have an experience that we’re all part of.”
Crookston performs April 5 in a double bill with singer-songwriter Krista Detor as part of the Acoustic Renaissance Concerts at the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale.
Detor has risen to the top of the field in contemporary folk and regularly tours the United States, Canada and Europe. The Bloomington, Ind.-based singer-songwriter and pianist has had her music featured at Cannes, and on the BBC, NPR and PBS.
Known for exquisite lyrics and artistry, Detor infuses her music with imagery and literary references. She recently released her fifth solo album, the acclaimed “Flat Earth Diary,” with songs that explore perception as reality. Crookston is a musical guest on the album. The April 5 concert will feature both artists in solo sets along with some collaboration.
Randy Styka, the director of the Acoustic Renaissance Concerts, is excited about the upcoming event.
“Our mission includes not just presenting artists that the folk community already knows, but those they may not have discovered just yet. This show is one of those, with two amazing singer-songwriters, with their unique styles and different backgrounds, coming together to share their music for us.”