Vermontcast's Conversation With Craig Mitchell
Recently Vermontcast sat down with Craig Mitchell. The influential artist, activist, and self professed “Jack-of-All-Trade” shared stories about growing up, his struggles, his triumphs; how he found himself in Vermont & the influence our communities have had on him.
He also took some time to reflect on what he loves about music and performing, whether it be as a DJ, a successful music producer or as the front man for his Prince tribute band “Purple”. Mitchell developed a deep appreciation for music from a young age
My mom tells stories of her buying me Christmas gifts and unless it made noise, I would throw it to the side. Then one year she bought me this tape deck, a recorder. I had a turntable there and I would put the recorder right next to a speaker and record a song. But if it was something that faded out, I'd pause it on a beat. Cause I'm like, "I don't like that. There must be more song after that...
I would end it on the last beat before it starts to fade and then.. I would get my ear right to the record and then unpause the record and unpause the tape for the next track. Years later, we're watching the movie beat street and I'm like, They're doing with records what I do with tapes! And pretty soon after that they bought me turntables. So that's kinda the start of the DJ stuff."
Mitchell grew up in a tough neighborhood in Saginaw Michigan where he witnessed the collapse of the auto industry and subsequent decline of his community. He would leave Saginaw and head to Vermont to attend College. He had no intention of being a DJ when he arrived at school, but one Valentine’s Day fate intervened and sent Mitchell on an unexpected path.
I was in college at St. Mike's , I was working in the student activities office and it was Valentine's day weekend. The DJ bailed. It was a family emergency. We're all like scrambling, trying to find a DJ. And everyone was booked. Obviously, it's a college, you know, all the colleges are booking DJs. It was a Friday night and Valentine's day!
So finally like end of the day, I'm like, "you know what, I guess I can do it." Which I never even planned on,
so the next thing you know, I was DJing five, six nights a week in college. It felt like and it still feels like Vermont allows me to build on what I've was doing when I was five years old, making those tapes. I can experiment and have fun.
From there Craig Mitchell’s career took off. Over the years he worked with iconic stars, producing albums, making music. Mitchell worked with Yoko Ono, producing a Yoko Ono's Walking On Thin Ice, which went to number one. He can rattle off an impressive list of collaborators, The Strokes, Niki Minaj, Lill’ Wayne… he was rubbing elbows with icons of the industry from Jay Z to Yoko.
I'm the soft little kid from Michigan that all of a sudden I’m doing commercials for McDonald's and Bloomberg. I did his whole campaign. I did all the voiceovers for that. I did Celebrity Deathmatch, and MTV spring break, I'm was flown down to Jamaica.
It was a wild ride, but one day he realized that he had lost site of who he really was. He made his way back to Vermont.
A place where he has always felt grounded, and began to redefine and rediscover who he was. More than just a musician Mitchell has grown into a leader on Social Justice Issues. He traces it all back to his time as a young man in college. When he had first arrived in Vermont he had been struggling to find his identity, his voice. He contemplated suicide. But, he credits his college counselor with saving his life.
My counselor in college, he saved my life. I was going to kill myself. He made me sign a contract saying I wouldn't do it. I wrote a one man show that wasn't supposed to be a show, it was supposed to be sort of an answer to him. I wrote the show that night [After speaking with him] because I had a paper that was due for my creative writing class.
And I, at the end of this, this piece, there were three different characters, a Baptist minister, a really flamboyant gay man named Peppa, and this kid from inner city, but at the end, one of the characters kills themselves.
And so I go to his office before I turn it in at class and I throw it on his desk. I'm like, “just so you know, Dave, even though I'm not going to do it, this will remind you, I want to do it because this is the one thing I'm going to do for me, but I'm not gonna do it for you. How about that, buddy?”
A couple of years later, I got asked to speak at a conference on diversity and I'm like, “oh what do I talk about it?”. I'm not, you know, social justice guy yet, at least I didn’t think so.
I went and read this script. Like it was a newscast or something. And I started getting booked at Harvard and MIT and all NYU and all these I'm like, whoa. And I did that for 10 years, touring around high schools, colleges all over New England.
That was sort of the beginning of me putting myself out there as someone who has a voice.
Beyond his work as a DJ and Activist, Mitchell has a beloved local band called “Purple”. As the front man he brings enormous charisma and energy to the stage; and the band has developed an incredible reputation since it began in 2010, originally named “Operation Prince”. As we closed up our interview Mitchell reflected on what he feels when he is on stage. He finds many people assume he is an extrovert, but the reality is he is an introverted person. But another side of himself appears when he is on stage. He was kind enough to invite our crew along to one of his shows at Club Metronome, where he is a regular DJ. And we have to say, he knows how to throw an awesome dance party. If you see Dj Craig is playing, we have one word of advice: “Go.”