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Connecting With The Songs, And The Audience
Craig Daniel
I have found that the best way to connect with the audience is not to simply get up there and bang out song after song after song. You need to talk with your audience, not at them or down to them, as I see many cover bands do. - Craig Daniel
by Natasha McGrath
 [Chorus and Verse] Craig Daniel
Craig Daniel

All by himself, Craig Daniel, who for over 10 years has been entertaining the Garden State in a variety of aspects, is one of the hottest acts on the cover circuit.

Playing in different original acts before venturing out solo to local coffee houses and bars, Craig’s popularity steadily grew in the Monmouth County area leading to the formation of his band in 1996. Covering all the catchy tunes that audiences love to hear further enhanced Craig’s popularity and in 1997 Craig revamped the band in order to perform cover hits more accurately. With the band performing in venues from Long Beach Island up to Hoboken, the Craig Daniel name was now widespread along the shores of Jersey.

In 1998, Craig joined the cover band Braino. Braino played all the favorite venues in the state and sometimes opened for other popular cover acts like The Nerds. Soon after, Craig left Braino and the cover band phenomenon behind to pursue other interests. Where Braino could be seen in larger clubs like Jenkinsons in Point Pleasant and the now defunct Tradewinds of Sea Bright, Craig can be found at more intimate venues like The Mad Hatter, also in Sea Bright, and Sayerville Bar.

Musically, reaching out to audiences on a more personal level is a big part of Craig’s performance. Pre-determined set lists and past club experiences usually dictate a band's performance, whereas Craig can solely focus on the mood of the crowd. His vast set list covers three decades of music. From 70s disco to 80s dance and 90s rock, Craig covers it all with just a fun stage persona and an acoustic guitar.

Craig’s substantial vocal range allows him to cover all genres of music, including female vocalists. His Britney Spears covers reign among favorites at local gigs. His other female renditions include Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” Madonna’s “Like A Prayer,” and Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.” He also covers favorites by The Police, Springsteen, INXS, Dramarama, U2, Culture Club and Bon Jovi. Incorporating today’s latest hits into his set list, Craig also includes songs from Fuel, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink 182 and Outkast.

You can find him entertaining at some of his most popular places like Sea Bright’s Off The Hook or the Harborside Grill in Highlands. His web site has all the info, from song lists to where to catch a performance at www.craigdaniel.com.

Craig Daniel

How did you get started in the music business?

Like many musicians, I became interested in music at a very young age. As a child, I played saxophone in my school band, but I really wanted to sing and write original music as I got older. So, by the time I was in high school, I joined my first rock band. We would perform original music as much as we could at local bars, coffeehouses, pizza shops, etc. It was great time in my life and I think it helped me learn about the music business at a young age.

What led you to the cover band scene?

I was performing original music for most of my early music career and I still write and record my own music now. But, about 10 years ago, I was offered a gig at The Downtown Café in Red Bank, New Jersey, performing some covers and hosting a weekly open-mic. I only knew a handful of covers, but I figured I'll just have to play the same songs over and over. After my first gig I was hooked.

It was so much fun to connect with the audience performing songs they all knew and could sing along to. I also figured this could help expand my name locally as well as bring in some money to help pay my college loans! So, I quit waiting tables and started learning as many covers as I could, a lot of the common songs cover bands were performing at the time, but also a lot of songs that I felt people forgot they loved from years before.

I've been performing covers ever since.

Do you prefer playing solo or would you be interested in joining or forming a band again?

Well, I do sometimes miss performing with the full band. It was a lot of fun, but I felt sometimes it was difficult to connect with the audience as much as I do when I play solo.

You are limited in the song selection to play based on what the other band members know, as opposed to playing everything in my repertoire when I am performing solo.

Also, performing solo allows me to bring more people on stage with me to sing a song at their own pace since I am controlling the rhythm instead of a drummer. I also feel there are so many cover bands in the New Jersey area, my solo show gives me the opportunity to try something fresh and different.

What musical influences helped determine your onstage personality?

That's an interesting question. I have found that the best way to connect with the audience is not to simply get up there and bang out song after song after song. You need to talk with your audience, not at them or down to them, as I see many cover bands do. Talk with your audience. I try to really employ humor a lot with the audience and never, ever take myself too seriously. I don't know if any musical influences have helped shape my personality. Believe it or not, I think more comedians have, like Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, the cast of "Friends." I just feel I know that when you are performing covers, you need to know your place in the world. You are not a rock star, you're playing other people's music!

Daniel Brings Fans on Stage to Perform as Part of the Show

What's the favorite song you cover? What's the crowd favorite?

That's a tough one, I like so many. As far as my favorites, "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey, any Bon Jovi song, "Rosalita" by Bruce Springsteen, "Your Love" by the Outfield, "Rapper's Delight" by Sugar Hill Gang. I think the crowd favorites are still ones that most cover bands do. "Laid" by James, "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, somehow "Blister in the Sun" by the Violent Femmes is still a favorite, and of course "American Girl" by Tom Petty.

As a one-man show, how do you keep the crowd's interest night after night?

I do? Well, I am glad someone thinks so!

Actually, I think my shows have been going well because of the ability to really change the songs each night since I know about 400 covers. Also, a big help is that I hand out my song repertoire and allow people to make requests right from the beginning of the night. I think the last big reason and most enjoyable part of my show is when I bring people up to sing a song with me or instead of me. Usually there is a bunch of regulars that will pop in to each show and sing with me, but every so often I can get a newbie on stage to sing something.

With the amount of cover bands NJ has, how do you manage to maintain your popularity?

Well … I think if you keep yourself humble, you strive to perform well each night as opposed to mailing it in. Many musicians can be notorious for having the largest of egos, and tend to under perform as they enjoy the attention of the crowds that swarm on the dance floor each night. I think for me, I try to keep a good perspective of what I am doing, performing cover songs for people, as well as interacting with the audience to keep them involved. I think by continuing to try to improve my show each night and constantly change the mix of songs, people will continue to attend my shows.

At least I hope!

Are there any front men in the Jersey cover scene you've been inspired by?

Well, I really have always liked The Nerds. Lead singer Allan, from The Fever, is great. Brian Kirk is always an excellent entertainer. I think I can relate to these performers due to the connections they make with the audience. I feel that when I see them perform, they are performing with you, not for you. The audience shapes these entertainers' shows, and you never know what to expect to hear every time you see them. I think it's very important to connect with your audience in this way and these cover groups do just that.

Craig Daniel

Are there advantages to not having a particular cover genre?

Absolutely! When you focus on many styles of music, you open doors to so many more groups of people to entertain: older, younger, rock fans, pop/dance fans, [and so on]. You never have to worry about who will be at your show when you perform all different styles of music. The important thing though, is being able to distinguish what to play for each audience. When I play for an older crowd, I obviously don't begin my show with Limp Bizkit.

What should we expect from Craig Daniel by the end of the year?

Hopefully, this year I will continue to work on my original CD. As an original artist as well as a cover entertainer, I really want to explore writing and recording as much as performing. I also hope to bring my cover shows to New York City this year, as well as some new venues here on the Jersey Shore. I may perform some more band shows again as well.

Overall I hope to continue to bring great music and humor to as many people as possible by performing at more and more venues in the New Jersey/New York areas.

Natasha McGrath is a graduate of Rider University with a degree in Journalism. A web site content developer for an investment firm by day - music enthusiast and cover band connoisseur by night. "NJ being the mecca of cover acts, someone has to let Garden Staters know who's worth the charge at the door. Usually found near the stage ... I'm the one who knows all the words." In addition to writing for Chorus and Verse, Natasha is also Music Writer for RedBank.com.
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