‘Be the community’

Paradise Grange transformed into Norton Buffalo Hall performance space

Paradise Community Guilds President David Zink on the mic at Norton Buffalo Hall during a Leonard Cohen tribute show.

Paradise Community Guilds President David Zink on the mic at Norton Buffalo Hall during a Leonard Cohen tribute show.

Photo by Ken Pordes

Be the Community Music Festival, Saturday, June 30, 5-10 p.m.
Tickets: $20
(kids free)
Norton Buffalo Hall
5704 Chapel Drive

David Zink was feeling lonely.

As he explained recently during an interview at Paradise’s Norton Buffalo Hall, he was new to Paradise at the time—2011—and working out of his home as a long-distance management consultant. He had clients and friends all over the country, but none in Paradise.

What he did have was music: Zink’s an accomplished singer, songwriter, guitarist and arranger with several CDs under his belt. But he didn’t know many local musicians, and there was no venue in Paradise where he felt comfortable playing.

Then he heard about the Paradise Grange Hall and the then-embryonic effort to turn it into a community music venue and gathering place. When his wife informed him that members could rent the hall for just $30, he jumped aboard.

Today it’s called the Norton Buffalo Hall, named after the late legendary harmonica player who in his last years made Paradise his home and gave freely of his time and talent to benefit the community. The hall is run by the newly formed Paradise Community Guilds—Zink is president of the board of directors—and it has hosted more than 15 concerts so far this year. These included two delightful sold-out Leonard Cohen tribute shows by local musicians. Cohen would have loved them.

Not only that, the hall is on sound financial footing and recently was able to put a new roof on the building.

David Zink is no longer feeling lonely. And neither are the hundreds of people who have attended the hall’s music events, worked in one of its two organic gardens, attended one of its tai chi classes, played at its popular Wednesday evening “Open Mikefull” gigs, or attended one of its monthly “Potluck and Presentation” events, where the talk ranges from bee hotels to beer making.

The hall opened in 1949, having been paid for and built by volunteers. Were it not for one member in particular, however, the hall would have died in 2008.

That’s when Michael Weldon moved from Chico to Paradise. He’d been a member of the Chico Grange, Zink explained, so it was natural for him to attend the Paradise fellowship. He discovered, however, that the group was broke and about to fold.

The old-timers recognized that Weldon brought new energy to the hall and soon elected him president. He started a plot garden, and then some local musicians got involved and started putting on fundraising events.

Gradually word got out that “the Buff,” as some now call it, is a sweet little place to play music, and Paradise artists became eager to play there. Artists from outside Paradise also became interested. The Cohen concerts, for example, were organized by longtime Chico musician Mark McKinnon, with help from others, including fellow Chicoan Peter Berkow, one-third of the novelty group Bird and Wag. “If Chico had something like this, I’d be really happy,” Berkow said by phone.

Like most feel-good stories, this one has a hitch. There’s been a schism in Grange World, with the agribusiness-backed National Grange asserting what it claims are its legal rights and taking ownership of Grange halls across the country, even though all were built and paid for by local members, mostly small farmers. Many in this state have opted to join the breakaway group California Guild.

Although the judge in the case has largely upheld the National Grange, he also is requiring that it pursue each Guild chapter in county court—a difficult task, at best.

In the meantime, the Paradise group is about to celebrate its successes with a blow-out music festival and benefit concert on June 30. It’s billed as “Be the Community,” which is taken from the group’s vision statement: “Be the community you want to live in.”

In Paradise, that’s exactly what they’re doing.