There was a time when only a handful of students and alumni in Chapel Hill, NC, showed up faithfully when entertainer Mike Cross played a local club.
Now, thirteen albums, numerous network radio and television appearances and hundreds of concerts later, things are rapidly changing. Whether he is appearing at Symphony Hall in Boston or an outdoor music festival in California, people across the country look forward to seeing their favorite fiddling storyteller and sharing the fun with friends.
Everything about Cross and his music is one cut above fantasy; his show, his music, his beginning as a musician. "The gist of it is, I got sick in a snowstorm during my junior year in college and ended up spending the night in a friend's dormitory room," as Cross tells it. "It turned out his roommate played the guitar." That roommate spent the next two days teaching Cross his first chords and songs.
Now, over 20+ years later, he still plays guitar - and fiddle as well - delighting audiences with 12-string bottleneck blues, fiery Irish jigs and a wealth of his own music and stories filled with backwoods humor characteristic of a Mark Twain or Will Rogers.
Born in Maryville, Tennessee in 1946, he grew up in the Appalachian mountains, a region well known for storytellers and songwriters. The fact that Cross originates songs and stories in this tradition is one of the few logical parts of his tale. But the logic ends here.
"The ironic thing about this is, although I grew up around a bunch of talented musicians, my great addiction in life was golf. I was a hard-core golfer from the time I was about 10 years old until I went off to college."
"I was going to go to college and play golf on a scholarship, but I fell in love with a high school sweetheart. I thought I'd go off to college and study to be a doctor; do something solid and secure so she'd marry me."
"We broke up when I was a freshman. I'd given up my golf scholarship and even sold my clubs, so I had to find something to replace them. I think that's why I took up the guitar. I needed a new passion in life."
"I've been incredibly fortunate to make a living at playing music, because there's no logical reason why I should be able to do it, starting out so late, not having any idea of how to perform for an audience, having a tin ear and a scratchy old voice that behaves half the time. Sometimes I come home at night and I'll lie back in bed and think--I just can't believe all those people came out to see me storm around on stage for a couple of hours."
Establishing a rapport with an audience is essential to Cross . "I want people to leave a show of mine saying, 'Boy, I had a good time'."
Picking, fiddling and joking, Mike Cross lives to delight and entertain.