Fri., 10/19 • 8 p.m.
Thalian Hall • 310 Chestnut St.
Almost exactly a year after North Carolina’s own Mike Cross performed a sold-out show at Thalian Hall, the part-musician, part-storyteller returns to the venue’s main stage. Cross’ energetic one-man show specializes in serving up a collection of foot-stompin’ songs, touching ballads, humorous tales, and catchy Appalachian guitar and fiddle tunes. His music and stories seems to embody the Carolina spirit—gentle, laid-back, engaging—and full of appreciation for the history, people and wildlife throughout the state. This concert coincides with the release of Cross’ 14th album, “Crossin’ Carolina,” produced by his son Patrick, guitarist for the acclaimed Michael Jackson tribute band Who’s Bad.
Cross says that back in college before he picked up his first guitar, he “would’ve guessed that eating gravel in a carnival sideshow would’ve come before learning to play music, let alone making music as a way of life for all these years.” However, with now over 40 years in the business, Cross has cemented his reputation as a respected artist, gifted storyteller and must-see performer by his continuous touring of North America, playing folk festivals and still, to this day, entertaining audiences with his warm and passionate personality.
encore spoke with Cross about his new album, working with his son, and the tick bite that almost got the better of him.
encore (e): You have quite the history with Thalian Hall; how does it feel to return?
Mike Cross (MC): It’s a beautiful place; I always look forward to playing it. It feels like a place you can settle into. The first time you walk into it, you feel like you’re walking into a giant jewel box. I actually did a live recording there back in 1981 for an album called “Live & Kickin’.”
e: Tell me about your new album, “Crossin’ Carolina.”
MC: It was an album I recorded this past December and January. I had been laid up, sick for a year-and-a-half, so I hadn’t been able to play any music at all—not even around the house. So in the course of that time, I would sometimes write songs and dig through my desk drawer to find older songs that had been tucked away and forgotten. So my son, Patrick, said, “Now that you’re feeling better, why don’t you do another recording because you’ve got so many songs piled up?”
Around this time, Tom Carter, producer of this show at Thalian, asked if there was a chance I could do a recording so we could do a tour of theatres in NC. So, we went into the studio, Patrick produced it, and we actually recorded it all in three days. It was great fun because no matter how close you are growing up, there comes a time when your kids go off on their own and you only see each other occasionally. Doing this recording with Patrick gave me a chance to be around my son—who is now an adult—and experience these things with him. That’s probably the most comfortable I’ve been in a studio because I had the sense that I was just hanging out with my old buddy.
e: You mentioned you were out of commission for a while.
MC: Well, what happened was that I contracted a tick-borne infection that some would consider a form of Lyme disease. Growing up in rural NC, in the Western part of the state, I probably had a tick bite every day of my life and thought nothing of it. All my life doctors told me that you couldn’t get Lyme disease in NC, and that always comforted me—up until I got it. For about a year-and-a-half, I experienced numbness in my hands, face and feet, fogginess of brain, and also tremors in my arm, so that’s what prevented me from playing the guitar and fiddle. There was a period where I really thought I’d never be able to play music again.
e: You’ve been performing for decades; do you still get nervous before debuting new songs live?
MC: The hardest thing about introducing a new song is that, since there’s a time frame [for concerts], there’s only a certain amount of time people can stay in their seats and not feel the need to scream and run out of the auditorium. Any time I [premiere] a new song, an old favorite probably won’t be heard that night. I’ve got enough songs now I don’t think it would be possible to do a show where I play all of them. I think because I’ve played so many shows through the years, I notice after my first few months on the road that it actually feels more comfortable to go on stage and play for a crowd of people than it does to order a cheeseburger and fries. It’s just as routine as drinkin’ a glass of water. It matters, but even if [a new song] doesn’t go over well, I’ll give it another shot tomorrow. So I don’t feel anxiety; I always feel excited. For me, performing is like opening a present on Christmas morning.