Chico is weird and wonderful as it loses one of its greats

First place: Meg Amor.

First place: Meg Amor.

photo by melanie mactavish

Still crazy after all these years I’ve already said this a lot in the days since the conclusion of the Keep Chico Weird Talent show that the CN&R produced on Saturday (Feb. 1), but it bears repeating: Chico is, as it has always been, great.

Despite being completely packed, the feeling inside the sold-out El Rey Theatre was that of an intimate Chico party—one of those perfect front-porch, living-room, backyard, garden or barn-house gatherings brimming with all the enthusiastic and supportive warmth of the family of Chico freaks and fun-makers connecting with everyone in the room. It was an unmistakably Chico night, and I am still overwhelmed as I try to process it all.

I do remember that the top weirdo was the amazing Meg Amor, who took home the first-place trophy (a fancy unicorn-like mutant horse made glorious by local mutant-maker Sea Monster) for her rockin’, mesmerizing glowing-hoop routine. And there was a second-place tie between the Full Force Dance Company (and its impressive 20-member dance jam) and the Chico Dance Hams, the adorable four-person troupe that had the crowd cheering for its wonderfully dorky and fun moves. And Paradise artist Victor Porter’s giant, green spliff-smoking exploding head won the audience vote in the lobby art show.

There was so much more worth mentioning, like 20 more acts (visit to see some video samples), but I’ll limit my gushing to giving shouts out to our amazing featured acts of the night: Chikoko, with their three beautifully surreal skits, and the Michelin Embers, who had the dance floor packed with country shufflers.

For me, personally, the best part of the night was the reinforcement that Chico’s still got it. Which is good, since one of my core beliefs (such as they are) is that there is always something new and cool to experience if you’re open to it. And Chico was wide open Saturday.

RIP Frank Ficarra On Wednesday, Jan. 29, longtime local jazz musician and retired Chico State philosophy professor Frank Ficarra died at the age of 86. CN&R music writer Miles Jordan knew him as well as anyone, and agreed to share a few words about the life of his friend:

Frank Ficarra (right) with Vincent Herring in 1982.

photo courtesy of miles jordan

“I met Frank at a Chico State jazz concert in 1980, thanks mainly to our shared interest in jazz—he as a Chico State philosophy professor, who also taught a jazz history course, and me as a JazzTimes contributor. A few months later, he and I and Jeanne Thatcher founded the Chico Jazz Society, which held a handful of concerts every year for the next 10 years. During this time, he also hosted Tuesday jam sessions at his house which featured several local heavyweights (e.g., Greg D’Augelli, Dick Smith, Kevin Axt) with Frank either drumming (his main instrument) or playing piano.

“Frank also led a few bands of his own, (e.g., Los Franciscos) and played drums in several others (e.g., The Skyliners) as well at the annual Enloe Follies musicals. He also played piano one night a week at [now defunct] Caffé Malvina and later at Nash’s Restaurant, and worked with various songstresses, including the Veranda Sisters.

“In addition to jazz, poetry and philosophy, another of Frank’s main interests was James Joyce, and he was a vital part of the annual Chico Bloomsday Festival. As a committed liberal, his front windows were plastered with bumper stickers that demonstrated his affiliation to numerous political causes. For several years, he was a cynosure as he motored around town in his VW station wagon with a rowboat strapped to its roof.

“Noted alto saxophonist Vincent Herring arrived here in 1981 (at the age of 16) to attend Chico State and moved in with Frank during his second semester. While here, his incandescent bebop chops electrified a lot of us during concerts with the university’s Jazz Ensemble and at clubs and CJS events. He eventually wound up in Nat Adderley’s Quintet as the first altoist to play with Nat since the passing of his brother, ‘Cannonball’ Adderley. This past week, I asked Vincent about Frank and he speaks for all of Frank’s friends when he wrote, ‘He was always open-minded … and always had something profound to say. He made me think and dream. He really did make the world a better place. He was a real friend. I will miss him.’”