by Robert Morast, The Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Published: Nov 28, 2002

When Mike Craver tells people that he’s spending his Thanksgiving weekend in Sioux Falls, there’s a common response.

“They say ‘you must be crazy,’ ” the musician says from his home in Lexington, N.C. “But you never hear much about South Dakota, and I’m curious.”

Craver has been to the area before, though. As a member of the popular folk group the Red Clay Ramblers, Craver played at Newton Hills State Park in the early ’80s.

“We played for one of the first festivals that they had,” Craver says. “It was a beautiful countryside, and the crowd was very appreciative.”

Tonight, Craver will make his return trip to South Dakota when the piano man plays his music in the Belbas Theatre of the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science. Also on the bill are the folk musicians Bill and Libby Hicks. Bill Hicks is also a former member of the Red Clay Ramblers.

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $15 and are available at the Pavilion box office or by calling 367-6000.

His tour of eastern South Dakota continues in Gayville on Saturday. The show with the Hicks duo begins at 8 p.m. at the Gayville Hall, 502 Washington St. Tickets are $10 at the door or $12.50 for advance reserved seating. Call 605-267-2859.

Though not a well-known name, Craver is highly regarded by pockets of music fans across the nation who enjoy his eclectic style that incorporates humor, American history and folk-music principles.

“I’m sure there’s a name for what I do, but I haven’t found it yet,” Craver says. “I’m a piano player ... I don’t play a guitar or fiddle or mandolin. I play piano. It’s not a folk instrument.”

Gaynor Johnson, a member of the South Dakota Friends of Traditional Music, says Craver’s songs are well-crafted.

“A lot of the songs he writes sound like they were written in the ’20s or ’30s,” Johnson says. “He’s got a great sense of humor.”

That sense of humor and his songwriting have helped more than just his solo career.

After leaving the Ramblers years ago, Craver moved to New York City and became involved in the theater industry. Since then he has written a number of musicals, including “Radio Gals” and “Oil City Symphony.”

The productions still are popular. Craver recently finished a stint of “Oil City Symphony” in Milwaukee.

Craver says he’ll likely perform some of the numbers from his musicals during tonight’s concert, but the script won’t be too regimented. After doing weeks of the same show night after night for his musicals, Craver enjoys the freedom of his solo concerts.

“They’re more of an adventure for me because you never know what you’re going to do or how you’re going to do it,” Craver says. “I feel like something takes over me, and I don’t know how I’m doing it.”

Reach reporter Robert Morast at or 331-2313.