Ball of sound

Arts DEVO—your music scene-watcher—welcomes you into the Chicosphere

Photos By Jason Cassidy

So, what is it that makes Chico so rad? About 250 bands plucking, grooving, moshing, shredding, scronking, RAWKing and representing the connection between li’l ol’ Chico and you. That’s right, it’s you, the rotating classes of students from all over the state and beyond, constantly bringing variety to our rural oasis, who have kept this music scene hot for the last several decades. That, combined with a college student’s youthful tendency to party often has created the kind of fertile environment where bands can quickly grow and spread.

It’s tempting to just start recommending bands to check out—make a list of the must-hears and send all you new students off to get hooked. But despite the fact that I love forcing art into lists, the names of bands of which you’ve never heard really won’t do you much good. Instead, allow me to paint a few scenes:

The hula-hoop of life

Right now, somewhere outdoors, there are bare feet twirling in the dust, tamping the permanent Chico groove laid down in the dirt by their hippie predecessors decades ago. We built this city on jam rock—that Grateful Dead-ish mix of laid-back country rock and improv jazz, plus enough bright funkiness to keep the ladies on the dance floor (and keep Calfornia’s sunny months packed with outdoor music fests). The scene, while not the driving force it once was, is still here, much like the progressive ideals of the era from which it was born (tune into KZFR 90.1 community radio to get juiced in). You can get in the groove at just about all of the downtown clubs—Lost on Main, The Down Lo, LaSalles—plus the all-ages Café Culture near the train station and anywhere music is played outdoors (Friday Night Concerts in the City Plaza, on the lawns at Chico State during World Music Fest).


Wherein young and aging hipsters live out the Chico ideal of staying 23 years old for 20 years or so inside the fishbowl of downtown Chico. You see ’em in a variety of bohemian flavors: beards and plaid western shirts; scruffy hair and thrift-store tees; maybe a homemade skirt and black-rimmed glasses.

All scenster trappings aside, “local-core” is the juice of the Chico scene. It’s built from a combo of born-and-raised North Staters and students who came to Chico, graduated (or dropped out) and stayed to continue playing. The strengths are that it’s a tight-knit group that plays and parties together and that there are a variety of styles in the mix—mostly rock, punkish-rock, hard rock, art-rock, post-punk, indie, indie-acoustic and some folk. You’ll even catch a few hardcore punks and headbangers bumming some smokes here.

These are the bands that will play with the cool independent groups coming through town to play the local all-ages haunts—Café Coda, 1078 Gallery, Monstros Pizza (for punk), Origami Lounge, Café Flo, and sometimes at downtown bars like Lost on Main, LaSalles and Towne Lounge.

The college set

In a run-down townhouse somewhere off Nord Avenue., with the cheapest rent in Chico, live four awkward 19-year-olds. There is no furniture in the living room, just a drumset where the couch should be, a couple amps stacked on top of one another, a dozen guitars in a messy pile in the corner and a PlayStation and scattered video-game boxes in front of the TV. There, among the stank of boys and crusty pizza boxes, the complicated process of meshing styles is taking place: “Our sound is a reflection of our diverse influences—with evironmentally conscious lyrics sung over a blend of reggae, ’60s rock, regional Tejano and skabilly.”

They will soon play their first party—four covers and one original cut short when the bassist and guitarist break strings simultaneously.

This scene playing out around Chico can have three outcomes: the band’s name will change 20 times as they spend the next five years replacing drummers and playing that same set at rehearsals; they’ll all become music-industry majors, and play exclusively at battles of the bands and free events on campus; they’ll find a practice place, form a personality and split their time playing college parties, sharing bills with the locals, and leaving the locals in the dust as they realize being a young band on tour is the coolest thing ever.

Let’s focus

So, those are the three basic spheres of Chico’s music scene, crudely outlined. The spheres overlap, of course, and the people who party at the intersection of that Venn diagram have the richest Chico experience.

But tightening the circle can provide a satisfying expereince as well, and there are several strong singular scenes in Chico worth checking out: The Pyrate Punx’s impressive calendar of touring and local punk shows at Monstros Pizza; the booming metal scene (also at Monstros, plus Ol’ Hawk Eyes Art Shackle, as well as the downtown bars); electronic music (BETA dance nights at Lost on Main; Zocalo chill-outs at Café Flo); singer/songwriters and open mics (Has Beans downtown, Café Flo, Café Culture); blues (first Wednesday of the month at Nash’s); jazz (Green Eggs & Jazz, Fridays at Café Coda, and Chico Jazz Collective, Thursday at the DownLo); occassional hip-hop (Lost on Main, LaSalles, J-Max Productions shows at The Senator); and the very active and growing Americana music community, with a new crop of youngsters playing at all the cafés (including Bustolini’s Deli) and just about every outdoor function in town.

Pick up the CN&R every Thursday, and get the clearest picture of the scene.