John Craigie is a resident of San Francisco as far as the government is concerned, but truly he lives on the road.
A traveling troubadour in the tradition of Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Craigie is a master storyteller who also happens to sing songs while playing guitar and harmonica.
One of his most popular performances isn’t a song at all – it’s a comedic bit about Jesus and what Craigie imagines would be the typical reaction to a traveling miracle worker.
Despite boasts that Jesus could give sight to the blind, cure leprosy or raise the dead, Craigie insists that “Water into wine” must have been “like his ‘Free Bird.’ ”
The story goes something like this:
Jesus: “For my next miracle, I will walk on water.”
Voice from the crowd: “No way, man. Do ‘Water into wine.’ ”
Jesus: “Don’t you guys ever get sick of that one?”
Voice from the crowd: “C’mon, ‘Water into wine!’ One more time!’ ”
That’s similar to what it’s like for Craigie as a traveling musician with a cult following of fans who often call out their favorites during his intimate and interactive live set.
It’s so much a part of his show that Craigie goes as far as inviting fans to make requests from his e-mail list.
“‘It’s fun seeing what going to get called out… ‘Water into wine’ still haunts me, in a beautiful way,” he said during a telephone interview.
“That’s one of the pros of being out there and getting to do it in a different town every night. Unlike staying put, I could tell the same joke every night and it’s a new crowd that would appreciate it. And I sort of realized that the more you stay put, the less money you make.”
For much of the last seven years, Craigie has spent more time touring than at home. His latest album, “Montana Tale,” is an Americana collection of snapshots and landscapes from the road.
The album features a new studio band that includes talents who have toured and recorded with the likes of Brett Dennen and Jack Johnson. It’s folk-based, with spurts of fiddle and banjo adding elements of country and bluegrass.
Released last December, “Montana Tale” follows 2008’s “Soft Hail,” which examined some of the darker aspects of a traveler’s life.
“It’s funny how the positives and negatives overlap and are similar,” Craigie said. “You come to a town and see your friends and crew and fans and you have one night to make a real impression – to sing with them or have them sing with you.
“There’s a beauty and a sadness to that because you miss these great friendships and then you have to say, ‘Well, see you in six months.’ And then you get in the car and drive to the next town and do it all over again.
“I’m glad I enjoy this lifestyle,” he added. “If I didn’t, I’d be in trouble.”