Members of Craig and Co include, from left, Craig Vivian, Eric Christian, Vanessa Campagna, and Dick Johnston

MONMOUTH, ILLINOIS (December 8, 2022) — The latest interdisciplinary project from Monmouth College can be seen (and heard) 5-7PM, December 17, at Market Alley Wines, 59 Public Square, in downtown Monmouth.

That's when three professors who make up 75% of the band Craig and Co will have their next gig.

The group includes educational-studies professor Craig Vivian, business and economics professor Dick Johnston, and theatre professor Vanessa Campagna, as well as percussionist Eric Christian.

For many, the most surprising member of the group is its namesake, Vivian, who gave up playing the guitar for thirty years after being in a band in his youth.

"When my son was about twelve, my wife found an old demo tape that we made," said Vivian, who's taught at Monmouth since 2000. "Paulie heard it, and he said, 'That's you?' That made him want to play guitar, and that's when I got back into it, too."

Given that Campagna has directed many musicals on campus in her nine years on the faculty, her singing talents might've been assumed, and those who follow the local music scene know of Johnston's prowess with the harmonica. He's been with several area bands since joining Monmouth's faculty in 1995 and performs frequently in Galesburg.

"My last week of college my senior year, we were walking home from a bar, and a guy who went on to make a living in music gave me his harmonica," said Johnston. "I promised him I would stick with it, and I have."

Live from Monmouth, Illinois

Johnston might have joined yet another band, if only he passed its requirement of knowing how to read music."It's more about memory and how it feels," said Johnston, who appreciates musicians with technical skill, but finds many can lack the emotion or improvisation that plays to a live audience.

Campagna, who said she's "sung in more musical theatre productions and choral music settings than I can count," in addition to singing in bands, agrees.

"There is certainly something to be said for singing to tracks, and I've done that," she said. "Tracks are consistent, but they offer no flexibility in a given moment, despite whatever artistic impulse a singer might have. Ultimately, I absolutely prefer the liveness of making music in real time with others."

And she especially prefers her talented band members.

"My theatre training makes rehearsal very important to my process," she said. "When Craig expressed interest in starting to get together to practice, I found myself excited by the prospect of building a repertoire."

Keeping it fresh, and fun

That repertoire has quickly grown. Vivian brings the James Taylor and Ray Charles sounds of the 1960s and '70s, while Johnston is a self-described "diehard blues guy" and Campagna features more recent tunes.

"The thing I love about this is that everybody brings something unique and different to the band," said Vivian. "Dick brought in a whole different set of songs, songs that have made the band better, and Vanessa brings in the newer songs," such as "Closer to Fine" by the Indigo Girls and "Don't Know Why" by Norah Jones.

"One of the most fulfilling parts of singing with Craig and Co is that I'm collaborating with musicians who are interested in and accomplished at playing across the genres," said Campagna.

"We have a lot of different styles," said Johnston. "I think the death knell of most local bands is just playing the same songs all the time."

"Through practicing and playing together, I found that we had grown beyond people who are playing and singing the same song and into an ensemble with artistic 'fit,'" said Campagna. "The guys are my artistic partners, and it's a sacred and empowering feeling for me when we are completely in sync and deeply feeling a song together."

There's also the fit from simply being with other musicians and enjoying the behind-the-scenes camaraderie.

"Craig routinely forgets to tell Dick what key we're in," said Campagna. "We have a laugh every time that happens. But, seriously, part of the fun is bringing to the group the songs each of us love. Sometimes the new songs are absolutely ready for the public, and other times we know there may be trouble spots. We're simply excited to share the new tunes and hopefully engage our growing audiences."

Those audiences have included several performances at Market Alley Wines and Legacy Estates in Monmouth, as well as the Belted Cow Orchard in rural Kirkwood, and a company picnic at the Pella factory in Macomb. Craig and Co may soon be playing regularly at other venues in Monmouth and Galesburg.

Vivian explained that the "and Co" part of his group's name was a nod to the various different musicians with whom he shared the stage when he first started playing in public again two years ago. He's happy that he's found a regular team.

"We're there to have a good time and have fun," he said. "There's no stress. It's just a way to say, 'Hey, everybody. Let's get together and have some fun.'"

And take a sorely-needed break from today's polarized climate, said Johnston.

"Everything is so political these days," he said. "Within the band, our politics are different, but when we're playing, it's just three professors who get along and have fun. I think that's kind of cool."

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