20 years in Chico

I moved to Chico for the music. It was that first show I saw at the old Wall Street Center for the Arts, a benefit for Vomit Launch’s tour van. The bill included (if memory serves) The Downsiders, The Remnants, The Vertels, Dose and Vomit Launch, led by the charismatic Trish Howard (née Rowland) decked out in yellow sweatpants. The bands were all local but were better than almost anything I’d ever heard. I had friends in some of them. I wanted to be in a band. I needed to come to Chico.

This week marks my 20th year as a Chicoan. I’ve now lived more years doing the stuff I’ve done in Chico than I did living out my entire childhood. All those defining kickball-Christmas-first kiss-first-Scorpions-cassette memories are now in the minority. The majority, as great as all previous years combined, is … Chico. I don’t know why, but it just feels weird to think of my life as mostly being about Chico. I definitely consider Chico my home, but I don’t know that I’ve ever explicitly defined myself as a Chicoan. I never fit the college-student stereotype—I never go bar-hopping; I’ve never been tubing; I’ve never set foot inside Joe’s Bar; I don’t know what the upstairs of The Bear looks like; I’ve never done a keg stand; I’ve never even graduated. And I don’t fit the “Chico is my hometown” mold either. I’ve never gone swimming in any of the holes in Upper Bidwell Park; I never go to the downtown Friday night concerts; I appreciate the Thursday Night and the Saturday morning markets, but don’t take advantage of either very often; I loathe disc golf (I also loathe people spending energy opposing disc golf); I’ve never been to Cohasset; I don’t like walnuts.

Why do I stay here? What is it that makes this the place that I’ve decided to call home? The park, the trees, the taco trucks, the flatness, the Sierra Nevada Brewery … sure, those are the givens. This is also where I met my wife and it’s where she was born and raised—that all matters. I also like the heat. I really do. It slows life down and gets me outside at night, and it feels like the whole city is in it together. The heat also reminds me of one of the things I loved about my hometown … I mean, where I grew up … Redding. But it really does come back to the music. There were more Wall Street shows after that first one (Camper Van Beethoven, The Throwing Muses) then great shows at the Burro Room (Flaming Lips, Fugazi), Whispering Clam Room (Pavement), Juanita’s (Modest Mouse, Cat Power), Blue Room (Death Cab for Cutie, Unwound, Track Star), and later at Chico’s constantly replenishing succession of DIY venues—Moxie’s, Fulcrum Records, CRUX, Café Coda, Monstros, TiON.

But even more than my regular and inspiring consumption of the noise made by visiting bands, the consistent, and No. 1, selling point for me personally in Chico has been that I too have been able to take part, along with most of the friends I’ve made along the way, in the show. I could write dozens of columns about the good times and the countless moments of artistic gratification, but I’ll limit myself to saying that it has been what has defined, and continues to define, my Chico experience. Most every friend I’ve made and every wild character I’ve encountered has come from the constantly shifting but always interconnected network of music types, and by extension the rest of Chico’s artistic freaks—from poets and painters to thespians and hippies.

But this look back isn’t meant to just be a rumination on the supposed good ol’ days. As great as the memories are, the advantage this combo rural community/college town affords remains: I can still do anything I want. Chico is small and laid-back enough that no matter what your artistic aspirations are, there are always open doors (however small) for energetic art makers, and the college brings enough outside cultural influence to ensure that there will always be something new and always be a handful of people around to witness your art.

I’ve shared these instructions for putting on a show many times, both in print and in person, but they bear repeating:

1. Say an idea aloud to your friends: “Shadow-puppet theater!”

2. Go to a local café, theater or art gallery and say, “I want to present Flaming Monkeyship Shadow Puppet Nightmare at your establishment.”

3. Tell the local media about your special event.

That’s what I do. And while I still have my gripes about living on this island and feeling so far away from everything, that’s what makes me love living in Chico—that and the heat.