By SCOTT WEISSER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Before he was a Bird, Oliver Craven played ball.
“I can actually see, right now, the bleachers where people used to sit and watch the Ephrata High School football team play,” Craven said during a recent phone interview with The Goshen News. He was stopped at a traffic light in Lancaster County, Pa., looking out at the field where he was once one of the players.
“I still have a couple of dreams about it every year,” Craven said of football. “It was a big part of my life. I loved it.”
After high school, though, Craven decided to move on. Music helped set the course.
Craven’s performance resume includes two years as harmony vocalist, fiddler and guitar player for Grammy-nominated artist Adrienne Young. He also spent a year with Virginia-based The Steel Wheels, an Americana group no stranger to Goshen gigs.
And now The Stray Birds — Craven’s current group that also includes Maya de Vitry and Charles Muench — is coming to town. The band is set to perform tonight at Ignition Garage, 120 E. Washington St.
Craven’s musical education began early. He started taking violin lessons on May 2, 1990, his fifth birthday.
“I had a lesson every week, and for the first five, six, seven years of that, my mom was really determined to have me practice every day,” Craven said. “And I hated it and I wanted to quit.”
The young Craven was told he’d be allowed to quit after he finished Book 1 of his lessons.
“That came and went,” he said, “and it was probably about five years before I enjoyed being in the school orchestra and started to play music other than classical music on the violin.”
Craven’s mom and dad are musically inclined as well, and as a unit they performed folk, country and bluegrass music as The Craven Family Band.
“It is forever a part of me, sort of helped make me the musician I am today,” Craven said, recalling that the family played what they called the “pot pie circuit.”
“My dad is a Lutheran minister,” Craven said. “We’d go to nursing homes, or church events where they’d feed you. As a young boy I particularly favored the mother-daughter banquets, for readily apparent reasons.”
Craven said playing music with his parents was a big part of his childhood. Music — now with The Stray Birds combo — is key to Craven’s life as a grown-up, too.
The Birds began to gel while Craven and bassist Muench were in a bluegrass band called River Wheel.
“Maya went to high school with Charlie, and she just happened to be around while we were making this record in Lancaster,” Craven said. “I think it was one of those nights after River Wheel got done recording, Maya and I were hanging out and we just sang a few songs together.”
Craven said he knew there was a “serious and worthy” musical connection between he and de Vitry.
A studio session in 2010 resulted in The Stray Birds’ “Borderland” EP. The group’s self-titled full-length album was released in July 2012. NPR declared that effort to be one of the Top 10 folk and Americana albums of 2012.
That sort of acclaim is fine by the Birds.
“It feels really great,” Craven said. “We work hard. I mean, we’ve all been performers before this band, but it’s not always the easiest thing to just come up with something that’s a reflection of yourself or the way that you feel and throw it to the general public.
“It’s nice when you work on something and you feel good enough about it that you’re going to release it, and people welcome it with open arms and are eager to hear more. We’re enthralled with the fact that people have been as supportive of us as they have.”
If you want to go
Showtime is 8:15 p.m. tonight for The Stray Birds concert at Ignition Garage, 120 E. Washington St., Goshen. Tickets cost $15 and are available online at www.ignitionmusic.net. Tickets are also available at Better World Books, 118 E. Washington St., or by phone at 574-534-1984.