Ever wanted to ask a living legend a question? Well, David Crosby—you know, the David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Byrds—wants to answer them. He is coming to the Wilson Center on December 7 at 7:30 p.m. for an intimate night of music and conversation, as he answers questions from the stage that fans post on his website.
“If somebody asks you a question, they tell you something about themselves,” Crosby observes. “I like it when they ask me something curious, [like] what is this song about? Or how do you feel about this? I do that on Twitter a lot: People ask me questions and I answer them. It’s just something to do while I’m trying to go to sleep.”
But before anyone asks about Woodstock, Crosby simply notes of its iconic remembrance: “It was big and it was muddy.”
Crosby’s curiosity about people and connecting with them might be the secret to his longevity as an artist. With a new album, “Lighthouse,” released in October 2016 and another (“Sky Trails”) due out in spring 2017, he’s not resting on his laurels, though the laurels are pretty impressive: 50 years of relevant, beautiful, haunting music. Today, he is producing beautiful and meaningful work still. Looking at a creative body of work so deep, it is impressive that the well is far from dry. “I don’t feel diminished in my ability and desire—either one,” Crosby notes.
“Lighthouse” has been an exciting collaboration for Crosby with big jazz band Snarky Puppy. “They asked me if I would sing on a benefit record,” he recollects. Snarky Puppy’s bassist and two-time Grammy winner, Michael League, and Crosby hit it off. “We tried writing together at my house, and it was particularly easy and enjoyable.” As the album began to take shape, singers Michelle Willis and Becca Stevens joined the ensemble to churn out what Crosby calls “a very acoustic album—very full band kind of record,” rampant with signature dynamic and evocative harmonies that made Crosby famous. Stevens is a NC School of the Arts alum with a forthcoming album titled “Regina.” Willis hails from Canada and released her first solo album, “See Us Through,” earlier in the year. The trio are on the road with Crosby to promote “Lighthouse.”
“They really are enjoyable to work with,” Crosby says. “I know it is a joy for me. It is certainly what I was put here to do.”
High praise indeed from a man who has worked with the biggest names in music in the 20th century: Phil Collins, The Grateful Dead, Wynton Marsalis, Mark Knopfler, The Indigo Girls, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King to name just a few outside of The Byrds and CSNY. Crosby has a little time off planned for Christmas and will hit the ground running with the new album. “It’s almost finished on my computer right now,” he tells. “That one is with James producing.” James Raymond, Crosby’s son, frequently tours with him and the two collaborate in the studio.
For all that is behind him, Crosby seems to be looking forward. But a lifetime of music is paired with half a century of social activism. His website has a tab for “News & Politics” right next to “Discography.” One of his books, “Stand and Be Counted,” explores the connection between activism and art. So it begs the question during our encore interview: What is the role of the artist in the current political climate?
“Our role is generally to make you boogie and to take you on emotional voyages,” Crosby reminds, calmly with his noted and beautiful lullaby voice. “It is only a small part of our role to be the town crier . . . [and] right now [he says,] ‘We’re fucked.’”
The dichotomy of the bluntness of what the voice says and the soothing delivery is a little tough to process. “Basically,” Crosby continues, “We are looking at a very hard time in this country in the next few years—unless you are a rich, white and male.”
Upon final words—wise ones, mind you—Crosby reminds us a positive outlook and connection with others can help alleviate burdensome civil and political unrest. “I can’t function if I lose hope. I have to find some way to move forward—I’m not constituted to put my paws in the air.” So he’s out touring, sharing music and dialogue with fans and musicians across generations.