Joe Crookston had been studying classical guitar at Kent State University until he happened upon a folk festival that changed his whole outlook on what his music could inspire.
“I like classical but it’s not where my heart was,” he said.
Crookston became captivated by the storytelling of folk music and saw an opportunity to create powerful music that “resonates on a human level.”
And for the past 15 years or so he’s been touring around the country, and in Ireland and Canada, doing just that.
“The energy on stage is a roller coaster of very slow, beautiful, calm moments, and then it can go into foot-stomping — like peaks and valleys ... and then it can come down to a pinpoint,” he said.
Crookston will bring his dynamic performance to State College at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 as part of the Acoustic Brew Concerts series.
On stage, Crookston likes to be encircled by instruments, seamlessly transitioning from one to the next. His set is fluid — he plays the music he feels like playing at the moment and gauges how each audience will respond. He may play a song he wrote a decade ago or one he just wrote yesterday.
Crookston is a self-described social archaeologist.
“I dig into the social structure of our culture — looking for stories, digging into people’s lives and creating art and music based on stories,” Crookston said. “It’s not just me making up (songs) about breaking up with my girlfriend. They’re deeper stories in people’s lives that are interesting — like bringing out little gems.”
Crookston received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 2007, which allowed him to connect with people and hear their stories. He said he spent about a year in the Finger Lakes region in New York just seeing who he could meet, with the “sole purpose of opening eyes.”
Though Crookston loves performing day in and day out, he occasionally needs some time to relax and regroup. In between touring, he goes back home to Ithaca, N.Y., and paints to rejuvenate his creativity.
Over the years, Crookston said painting has taught him to not over think or judge himself. His painting used to be private, but now he sometimes showcases his pieces during his performances.
“It’s not so much the imagery in the paintings,” he said. “I just let go and move on — make one and move on, and that influences my writing.”
Filmmakers have even been inspired by his music.
About two years ago, a filmmaker in the audience of Crookston’s show in Manhattan connected with his song “Brooklyn in July,” and the short film it inspired is set to debut next year.
“Getting out in the world and playing always leads to other things,” Crookston said. “If you show up and are passionate about something ... awesome things happen.”
Currently, Crookston is focusing on his new record, “Ten Become One,” which represents all the different aspects of his life — storytelling, painting, music, etc. — morphing together to represent who he is as a whole.
His hope is that audience members will not only connect with one another but also connect with the real stories that are portrayed in each song.
Though Crookston says his music often deals with darker themes, such as questioning life and death, he said people often tell him how energized they feel after his performance.
“I want to send people home asking, ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ ” he said. “I’m trying to slap people awake and say, ‘You have some power.’ ”
IF YOU GO
- What: Acoustic Brew Concerts series: Joe Crookston
- When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19
- Where: WPSU Studios, Innovation Park
- Info: www.acousticbrew.org