John Cruz, Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning singer-composer, is going lean and green in November and December, with a statewide tour at modest venues with easy-on-the-pocketbook admission.
It’s his stimulus effort, to provide affordable good vibes in grassroots spaces. Some gigs have dinner options;
We caught up with him in Kona, to catch up on his mission:
Question: With a tight economy, this is a tour with affordable prices in venues not commonly tapped for a trouper of your stature. Is this an easy Cruz (well, cruise) for you, or a challenge?
Answer: It’s great to fill large venues, but regardless of how big a place is or what the ticket price, the goal is always the same and that is to connect with fans and make people feel good.
Q: In these rough times for folks, with furloughs and lean wallets, do you suppose your grassroots route will have appeal and make fans feel better and at the same time support you?
A: Bigger venues cost more to play at, so this time, I wanted to keep ticket prices down for people who wanted to come see me play but maybe couldn't afford it. So I decided to play at smaller places with low overhead so my shows were accessible to more people.
Q: Sounds like you’ll have fun with your hand-picked band of Frank Carillo and Imua Garza, folks you’ve worked with. How did you achieve that vital chemistry?
A: Imua actually can’t make any of the shows this time; his schedule just changed. I’ll have Frank Carillo with me on bass at all the shows, plus some family members and other guests at the different venues. Choosing people with good chemistry is essential when you’re doing live performances. That energy lifts the music up and translates for everyone, both on and off stage.
Q: You performed earlier this year at the South by Southwest fest in Austin. How did Hawai‘i’s music fit with that crowd?
A: Austin is a music town and fans there already had a familiarity with Hawaiian music. Rather than hoping people would accept the music, we found they were actually seeking us out because they were excited to finally have some Hawaiians play Austin. The whole experience was a blast.
Q: So you’re hitting most of the Neighbor Islands; but how will fans on Lana‘i, or even Ni‘ihau, react when they’re not on your radar?
A: I go to as many islands as possible. I’m happy to be playing on Moloka‘i this time, in addition to the other islands on the usual route.
Q: What can you say about the third album that’s in the works?
A: My new album is really just starting to take shape, so I’m still not sure what it’s going to become. I’m still selecting the songs and deciding what I want it to be. I have some songs that I love and others that have yet to be written. I’m excited to be starting another project and keep the creativity going. I hope I can capture that same magic in this third project. It’s always a challenge to do that and hope to connects with people.
Q: You plan to hit the road next year to the East Coast, the West Coast, Canada, Japan, etc. Are you a traveling man – living from a suitcase?
A: I love traveling. I’m fine with living out of a suitcase, backpack or whatever. I just love to get out there and play. It’s an opportunity for people to hear my music, which is wonderful no matter how long I'm on the road.
Q: You had basic training, formulating your music, while living and working in the East and Northeast before settling back in Hawaii. What lessons and insights did you learn when you were in turf that many have tried, but only few have succeeded?
A: I’ve learned that no matter where you go, you have to play what you know and how you feel. If you try to be a certain thing because you're in a certain place and think you have to sound a certain way, it won't work. If you’re fake, you won't have a lasting impact at all. So no matter where I’ve lived, I’ve stayed true to myself and my music and I think people have responded to that.
Q: Can you equally and freely express the feeling and intent of a tune only with instrumental guitar, or do you feel you do your best work with lyrics that provide shadings and details of an experience?
A: I love playing instrumentals. To me, it's always more rewarding when you can move people with just a guitar. It's easier to have people respond to vocals, but if you can make an impact with just a guitar, it feels that much sweeter.
Q: You’re part of a musical family, with a dad who entertained and brothers who sing and strum. Ultimately, at some time, you all were competing for the same audience. How competitive, or supportive, are you, as 'ohana-siblings-musicians?
A: My family has always been very supportive of each other. We’re not competitive about our music. We might have some of the same audience, but we feel it's a blessing to be able to get up there and play it. It's about the joy of the music, not about who is better than whom.
Q: Is it intimidating to count among your fans, and friends, some notables like Jack Johnson, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffett, Lisa Loeb, Trey Anastasio and others?
A: It’s great to be around artists like that to see what music is like for them I’m just happy they've found success and psyched they’re able to crack that lock, so to speak.
Q: And who do you admire and listen to, as fan?
A: In Hawaiian music, I admire Peter Moon, Auntie Genoa and of course, Gabby...my brothers and sisters too because I love them. In contemporary folk music, I love Bruce Cockburn, Greg Brown, artists that don't get a lot of mainstream radio play. They are more independent and I think it's rewarding to do it yourself.
Q: It must be a cool gig, to be spokesman of Sprint Hawaii's "Mr. Holland's Opus" Foundation, which donates free ‘ukuleles to school. Do you wish you had this kind of kokua while you were in school? Any particular memory of a school visit to share?
A: When I was in school, music was a standard part of the curriculum. Everybody had a chance to play. It's strange to hear that schools now don't have music programs or that students have to play paper ukuleles. Hawaii has such a rich musical heritage and the fact that the state doesn't nurture that is ridiculous.
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not singing or entertaining...in other words, the flipside of John Cruz, performer.
A: I love fishing and go as often as I can. I like to go camping and do stuff that's quiet and that doesn't happen in front of people.
Q: “Island Style” will probably be your signature. How true-to-life is it— mom prepping beef stew and lomi salmon, go grandma to clean yard, kanikapila local style. All real, from small kid time? Was there a verse that never made the cut?
A: "Island Style" is completely true to life. That's why I wrote it. It means different things to different people, which is why different verses have taken life. I wrote my other verse as a response to people who started writing them on their own.
CRUISING WITH CRUZ
Kailua-Kona — 7:30 p.m. today, (Nov 6) Aloha Theatre, 79-7384 Mamalahoa Hwy.; $35 reserved, $25 general; http://www.alohatheatre.com
Hilo — 7 and 9 p.m. tomorrow, (Nov 7) The Mongolian Grill, 194 Kilauea Ave.; $25 with dinner for first show, $15 for second show; http:/www.hihowok.com
Princeville — 7:30 p.m. Nov 13, Church of the Pacific, 5-4280 Kuhio Ave.; $25 reserved, $20 general; http://www.church-of-the-pacific.org
Waimea, Kaua‘i — 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14, Waimea Theatre, 9691 Kaumuali‘i Hwy.; $20 reserved, $15 general; http://www.waimeatheater.com
Kaunakakai — 7:30 p.m. Nov. 27, Paddler’s Inn, 10 Mohala St.; $45 reserved with dinner, $20 reserved; $10 general; 808-533-5256
Honolulu — 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1, Jimmy Buffett’s at the Beachcomber, Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber hotel; $45 adults with dinner, $25 children with dinner; $20 general; 791-1200
Kahului — 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4, McCoy Studio Theatre, Maui Arts and Cultural Center; $32; 808-242-7469, http://www.mauiarts.org