Popular local musician Joshua Cripps dies at 44

“He spent his life projecting joy into the world as if he wouldn’t live forever,” one longtime friend said of Joshua Cripps, who died Jan. 31 at age 44.|

You might have seen Joshua Cripps playing his trumpet at a local bar, DJing at a friend’s wedding or hyping up the crowd at a karaoke night in Rohnert Park.

He had many talents — as a DJ, trumpeter, magician, yoga instructor and concert producer, friends and family said. But it was his contagious enthusiasm and compassion for others they will miss the most. The popular local musician and performer, whose used the stage name Bluegreen, died on on Jan. 31 at age 44 after a lifelong struggle with painful pancreatic disease.

Cripps’ popularity locally is evident from several recent public gatherings to remember him, including a candlelight memorial in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square earlier this month and a celebration of his life, with music and performance, scheduled for Sunday in Rohnert Park.

Among his several acts, the Santa Rosa native most prized playing the trumpet. He accompanied bands and musicians at venues across Sonoma County, played for symphonies and performed at several local events and fundraisers.

In fourth grade, he picked up the trumpet for the first time and never put it down. He took lessons and eventually joined the school band at Rincon Valley Christian School, his family said. Cripps was once the youngest member of Santa Rosa’s Youth Symphony, where he played the position of principal trumpet.

“His first trumpet teacher told us early on that he was a prodigy,” said Denise Cripps, his grandmother, with a laugh. “I remember the first time we took him to a music store to pick out an instrument. Out of all of the instruments hanging on the walls, he chose the trumpet.”

Cripps was recognized for his other talents, too. As teenagers, he and his friend Judah Nagler formed a band, Tin Circus, with Cripps playing trumpet. Tin Circus was named “Best Band 1999” by the Bohemian, and later on, starting in 2017, the publication named Cripps “Best Live DJ” for several years.

Others remembered how Cripps impacted them with his performances as a magician at parties and events.

“He included sarcastic banter in his magic shows that would make everyone in a room light up and laugh,” said Christa Durand, his friend of 15 years.

“Once, when my nephew and his mom moved in with me after being homeless, Josh came over to do a magic trick. He wanted to make it special for my nephew since he’d been going through a rough time. It was a show for one. Josh gave away the most. That’s who he was,” Durand added.

Aside from Cripps’ trumpet performances, magic shows and event promotions, he loved deejaying at weddings. He enjoyed it so much that he had a wedding booked every weekend for the next two years, his family said.

Pete Missen, a friend who met Cripps seven years ago during karaoke night at Double Decker Lanes in Rohnert Park, hired Cripps to DJ at his daughter’s rock ‘n’ roll wedding in January.

“He made you feel like a star,” Missen said. “He was the kind of person that would lift you up if he sensed you were feeling down. He and my daughter really bonded at the wedding that night. He was in his element.”

It didn’t matter if he was speaking to a stranger in his yoga class or encouraging a nervous singer during karaoke night — he made everyone feel welcome, said his mom, Jennifer Cripps Emmons. Strangers would end up feeling like they’d known Cripps for years.

“He spent his life projecting joy into the world as if he wouldn’t live forever,” said Joseph “Cowboy Joe” St. Clair, a friend for more than three decades. “He was my best friend, but in reality he was everyone’s best friend.”

His family described Cripps as a sensitive and tenderhearted person.

When Cripps was 10, he had a miniature schnauzer dog he named Grover, after a character in one of his favorite childhood shows, “Sesame Street.”

At the end of his life, Grover was sick with cancer and needed to be put down. Before the procedure, Cripps took Grover outside for a final goodbye as his entire family waited in the lobby of the veterinary clinic.

When he walked back inside, Cripps’ mom asked what his final words were to Grover.

She spoke about the memory through tears on Tuesday from her parents’ Santa Rosa home. “Then Josh says, ‘I told him that love never dies. And that in my heart, he’ll always be my dog,’” Cripps Emmons said.

The musician found joy in hot yoga and camping in Mendocino County. He also was devoted to the local queer community and produced and performed at LGBTQ pride events in Sonoma County.

“He didn’t come out to his community until his 40s,” Durand said. “It was tough at first. But once he did, he made a conscious decision to express himself more openly to set a good example for our queer youth. That was important to him.”

The song, “Hole in the World” by the Eagles has been stuck in his grandmother’s head since Cripps’ death, she said.

“He was very unusual but in the best of ways,” his grandmother said with a laugh. “He has left such a big hole in our family and in so many people’s lives.”

A festival-style memorial, dubbed “The JB Love Fest 2022: A Celebration of All Things Joshua,“ will be held for Cripps at Sally Tomatoes from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday (1100 Valley House Drive in Rohnert Park). The event will feature musical performances, poems, speeches, a “love parade,” photo booth, face painting and drag queens. The public is welcome.

Cripps is survived by his four half-siblings, Kimberly Whitner, Julie Swenson, Sophie Ragen and Martin Swenson; his grandparents, Denise and William Cripps; and his mother, Jennifer Cripps Emmons.

The Cripps family have set up a GoFundMe to raise money to help with funeral and burial expenses.

You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at mya.constantino@pressdemocrat.com. @searchingformya on Twitter.

Mya Constantino

General Assignment/Features Reporter

Stories can inspire you, make you laugh, cry and sometimes, heal. I love a feature story that can encapsulate all of those things. I cover the interesting people that exist around us, art and music that move us and the hidden gems that make Sonoma County pretty cool. Let's explore those things together.

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