Fulcrum Records is latest all-ages live music venue to close doors
No surprise. On the night that Fulcrum Records—the center of Chico’s all-ages live indie/punk (and even metal) music scene for the past two years-plus—is set to have its final quality, original, underground rock party before shutting the doors for good, there is another quality, original, underground rock party happening in town at exactly the same time with Squirrel vs. Bear and The Phenomenauts over at Off Limits.
This is how it goes in Chico. Two live music venues—one all-ages, one 21-over—stick around long enough to cultivate the local music scene to the point where great shows happening the same night is becoming commonplace, and poof. A venue disappears. It usually happens during the summer (as it did with both the Blue Room’s “wood room” and Juanita’s), and perhaps it was happening in the mind of Fulcrum owner Rene Stephens during a month away from the shop this summer up in Alaska.
Whatever the deal, regular all-ages rock shows are done for the time being in Chico. On the eve of the final regular show, we talked with the friendly Stephens about her time as the main caretaker of Chico’s underground music scene.
How are you doing?
I’m super bummed. On one level, I love it and I love doing music, but I haven’t had a weekend in, like, three years. I think it’s going to fun to be able to go out and do other things and not have to worry, but on another level I’m just like, ‘Oh my God. What am I going to do?” I just feel really lost.
How did the record store evolve to where the live stuff became the main focus?
When I started Fulcrum, I was paying an average price of $5.50 wholesale per CD and making a decent profit, with little overhead. And then, places like Best Buy and stuff started to really hit those markets hard, and a lot of little indie distros closed up. Best Buy does this really creepy thing where they do the “box lots.” They’ll go to Sub Pop and say, “If you give us [a price of] 50 cents a CD for the life of this release, we’ll front you so-many hundred thousand dollars to make the CD. So, they’re cutting out all the little guys.
So, you just had a live club at that point.
The Blue Room had stopped doing shows; Moxie’s was in that space where they weren’t doing any more shows. I mean, there was nothing. There was nothing fun, and I hate bar shows. … So that’s what I wanted to do. I stopped selling CDs and just started doing shows all the time. So, I was just doing that and it was making money-ish. I had a loan, which I still have to pay off.
I wanted to do shows. I love music. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend every night of my life for the past two years.
Moxie’s, Juanita’s, Fulcrum—These are all businesses/spaces that weren’t initially designed for live music, yet have tried to add that to whatever else they’re doing. Is that setup just doomed to fail?
Yeah, I think it was. There was no business plan. I think if I were to go back and do it again, I would just research the nonprofit route. But I didn’t do that. I mean, I didn’t know how. I knew nothing about nonprofits. And now I’m in this boat [laughs].
Do you think there’s a big enough market in Chico to do it that way?
Oh, yeah. There is. I think, what you gotta do is pull people from all walks of life to do it. You gotta have a lot of money to start it. It’s gotta be a big space.
Looking back, what are some of your best memories?
Every show I’ve ever seen [laughs].
Josh Martinez and Awol One, when they came through town—that was really great. And then, they didn’t book a show, but they came through another time during the summer and spent the night and we went out on the river and went tubing … They’d never been on a river before [laughs].
What are you telling all the bands that are undoubtedly still contacting you for shows?
Well, I’m in denial. I’m going to start generating an email saying, “Look for me in the future. Please, don’t forget chicolist.com.” I want to come back, and I want to do something and I want to open a bigger venue. It’d be awesome to have a big space and have some financial support from the city and the community because it’s a great place for the kids. I have them for six hours a night where they’re not drinking or doing drugs. And, maybe they’ll join a band and then they become good kids because they’re focused on doing something.