Singer-songwriters Brett Dennen, John Craigie bring heartfelt emotion and humor to Wheeler |

Singer-songwriters Brett Dennen, John Craigie bring heartfelt emotion and humor to Wheeler

Kimberley Nicoletti
Special to The Aspen Times
Catch John Craigie and Brett Dennen will perform at The Wheeler Thursday, Feb 9, together for the first time since college.
Benji Wilson Photo Credit

When you’re a musician in college at the height of the jam-band scene, it’s natural to ride the wave — just like Brett Dennen and John Craigie did at University of California Santa Cruz.

But it just wasn’t their thing. They felt more drawn to the then-up-and-coming singer-songwriters like John Mayer and Jack Johnson, even though, at the time, it was harder to find audiences who preferred to just listen in the midst of danceable jam bands, Craigie said. 

But since then, the honesty and sincerity of singer-songwriters has gained new momentum — just like it did in the revolutionary 1960s — and Dennen and Craigie are speaking to the issues of our modern world. 

Dennen’s latest release, “See the World,” addresses failure, doubt, getting diverted, losing balance, and other life circumstances through an uplifting lens. 

Brett Dennen to perform with John Craigie at The Wheeler on Feb. 9.

“I’m a creative that tells a story. I lean more toward the poetic side of songwriting because I get bored with love songs,” he said. “People like to hear songs about life, but, ultimately, they like it to be on the more positive side. There’s always hope in all of my songs, and I attract the people who are into that.” 

The album reviews what’s truly valuable to invest time and energy in and explores themes like taking stock of your life, re-inventing yourself through second chances, pushing yourself to expand outside of comfort zones, and returning to inner joy, even when you’ve lost it. 

Brett Dennen will perform at The Wheeler on Feb. 9.

Craigie’s 2022 album, “Mermaid Salt,” was also born of the pandemic’s solitude and led him to play with layering synthesizers and drum machines — something he was previously resistant to — “building” the songs rather than playing them live with a band. His themes revolve around feelings of isolation, endings, and new beginnings. 

In his live shows, he shares candid stories and humorous anecdotes as ways of introducing and expanding upon his articulate songs. He talks about his songwriting processes and what a song is truly about and recounts funny incidents he encountered as a college student and on the road. 

“John has branded himself as one part singer-songwriter and one part stand-up comedian. He’s honed his joke telling, which is somewhat self-depreciating but also very insightful, so people can connect with him,” Dennen said. 

The two have been friends for about two decades and admire one another’s style, making them the perfect fit for a collaborative show. 

“Brett always had such an amazing aura around him. You could just tell right away that he had something going on that needed to build,” Craigie said about the early days. “He has this powerful voice and a unique guitar style — he has a fingerpicking style yet still a groove thing, and (even in college) the songs spoke to this wave that was coming, this storytelling.” 

Though he described his rise as a singer-songwriter as a “slower build” than Dennen, his dedicated fan base is one of the reasons Dennen invited him on the Lift Series tour, an itinerary Dennen started in 2017 to perform in ski towns. While the two performed in college together, since going their separate ways, they hadn’t shared the stage. 

John Craigie will perform with Brett Dennen for the sixth annual Lift Series at The Wheeler Feb. 9.
Benji Wilson Photo Credit

“The audience will get to see a very unique show (with) two old friends playing their normal thing and then playing songs together,” Craigie said. “This combination is something that’s a first, and it’s going to be really special.” 

Dennen’s passion for the Rocky Mountains and skiing originally spawned his Lift Series.

“I love playing in ski resort towns because it’s a special kind of person that lives in Aspen, Vail, or Telluride,” he said. “Colorado in general has the best music fans in the country. They have a real love for live music and positivity, and the people are connected to nature. Surfers and skiers are on the cutting edge of something, and I don’t know what it is; it’s just a feeling I have. Then you throw in a few tourists, and that’s a special thing to celebrate.” 

If you go…

What: Brett Dennen and John Craigie in the sixth annual Lift Series
When: 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 9
Where: Wheeler Opera House, Aspen
More info:

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