Back to Chico
The Mother Hips return to their roots for 20th anniversary show
El Rey Theatre230 W. Second St.
Chico, CA 95928
The long hair may be gone, but the memory of Chico parties and intimate shows at mostly long-gone local venues—Juanita’s, the Blue Max, LaSalles, the Whispering Clam Room—still resonates with local Mother Hips fans who were here when the band was born in Chico 20 years ago. The feral, thrash and crash of those early gigs has long since been replaced with higher fidelity and much larger rooms, but the basic premise—dynamic country and rock highlighted by tight vocal harmonies and the occasional extended jam—remains.
This Saturday, Sept. 10, at the El Rey Theatre, the Mother Hips return to where it all began for an anniversary concert celebrating 20 years of music-making and merriment in their old Chico stomping grounds.
Before churning out three major-label releases and embarking on national tours while signed to American Recordings, the Mother Hips players were just wide-eyed Chico State kids who dormed in Craig Hall and lived around town, on Vallombrosa Avenue and Chestnut Street.
“Chico is where the Mother Hips was formed and for the first seven years was our home base,” said frontman and co-founder Tim Bluhm. “But we spent progressively less time there. As we toured, our house was taken over while we were gone and eventually there was no place to sleep when we got home. So we moved to the Bay Area.”
Bluhm said the current lineup, featuring himself and co-frontman/-founder Greg Loiacono on guitars and vocals, as well as John Hofer (drums) and Scott Thunes (bass), will be supplemented at the anniversary show by original bass player Isaac Parsons and drummer Mike Wofchuck, who has remained a popular Chico performer with such outfits as MaMuse and the Loyd Family Players.
“Given the occasion we’ll lean on some older material, but at the same time we are very focused on what is happening in the present,” Bluhm said about the big show. “We are halfway through a new record and the last few years are our best. It’s cool to celebrate the 20th anniversary, but we’re not spending too much time looking backwards.”
It’s understandable why Bluhm and company don’t dwell on the past. It’s not as if the band led off with a cash-cow chart-topper on which they could build their whole career. The Mother Hips has been on a 20-year simmer. Beginning with a flavorful base of gumption, talent and recklessness, the recipe has been tweaked and added to over time with a succession of local acclaim, plenty of hedonism, national acclaim, refutation of their jam-band tendencies, re-embracing their jam-band tendencies, lineup changes, a two-year hiatus, solo projects (Bluhm has released four solo albums and collaborated on many others, including two with Loiacono) and a constant honing of their craft.
Now, Bluhm is more skilled and mature, and quite content with the Hips’ place in the world. “We were lucky to be on American Recordings for three records … and it did raise our profile,” Bluhm said. “We’ve toured the country six times on their dime, and that’s been helping us make a living ever since. I’m happy to now be outside of the ‘music business.’ Ours is a cottage industry. We make a good living and have fun and don’t have to listen to anyone tell us what to play.”
The El Rey show also coincides with the release of Days of Sun and Grass, a four-disc box set of previously unreleased material culled from the band’s first 11 years. The title, a “nostalgic reflection of the past,” Bluhm said, comes from one of their old songs, “Barefoot Sea Chantey.”
“We could’ve taken this box set all the way up to the present,” Bluhm explains in the liner notes. “There are certainly enough songs for it. … [But] it is a celebration of our youth, of our beginnings, and of the spirit of endless possibility that goes with those things.”
Bluhm has fond recollections of those beginnings, sparked by coming to study at Chico State. “Bidwell Park was the place,” he said. “We all had mountain bikes and explored, swam and rode bikes, tripping out on all those little hobbit trails. It felt like Narnia.”
Loiacono reminisced about some of the Mother Hips’ old Chico haunts: “Juanita’s was kind of like a living room for us. We played there so many times. … It was always a raging party when we played there.”
“Twenty years, wow! We were young,” said Chico’s Syb Blythe, the owner of Juanita’s back in the day. “For [the] Mother Hips, I feel that it’s so wonderful they followed their hearts and are still making music and bringing so much pleasure and fun to us.”