Can A Music Movement be Invented, Expanded and Sustained?

Jason Cassidy is CN&R’s calendar editor and a local musician.

Have you heard? The CAMMIES are here. We’re puttin’ on the CAMMIES. The CAMMIES showcases. CAMMIES nominees. CAMMIES voting. I had dinner with the CAMMIES. There’s a CAMMIE under my bed! CAMMIES! CAMMIES! CAMMIES!

OK. We know. We’ve been a little preoccupied lately. But even though we may be a little weary of typing all-caps for our new favorite acronym, it’s actually been a really fun couple of months at the CN&R. Now that we’re close to tying up the whole CAMMIES package with the grand finale, it’s time to reflect: What exactly has gone down?

In the beginning it was just another idea: The News & Review had been putting on the SAMMIES in Sacramento for 13 years, and we decided to put together a similar music awards show in Chico. We asked a wide-range of music types to give us their opinions and fill up 12 categories with five nominees each; we had the nominees in each category perform at local showcases over a four-week span; then we had our readers vote for their faves and give awards to the winners at a big party in the Senator.

Wariness over what effect a competition would have on local music wasn’t overwhelming, but it was a concern for some in the music community (this writer included). Chico’s music scene has always been so special because of its intimacy and approachability, and also because it wasn’t like the diffused scenes of big cities like Sacramento.

As the preparations evolved, and communication between hundreds of musicians and others in Chico’s music scene increased, those initial fears began to quickly melt away.

“My first reaction was very skeptical,” said Peter Berkow, a longtime local musician and PBS videographer. “I really don’t like to mix competition with music. I usually hate things like saxophone cutting sessions, and fiddle contests, and ‘battles of the bands.’ ”

Berkow is half the namesake of the Berkow ’n’ Becca Band, a CAMMIES nominee (in the Funk/R&B/Jam category). Berkow ditched his initial hesitation and dived right in, attending a majority of the CAMMIES showcases.

“Music is not like a track meet; you don’t compete for medals,” Berkow continued. “The CAMMIES events I have attended, both as an observer and as a participant, have been more like a celebration of Chico music. I felt very little competition at all. I’ve been reading about The Makai and Aubrey Debauchery, and groups like that. … It was a pleasure to be exposed to the creativity of those musicians.”

Whether you’re of the “celebration” mindset or simply see the CAMMIES as a chance to be “exposed to the creativity” of many different local musicians, this endeavor of bringing as much local music as possible into focus under one banner, competitive or otherwise, has the power to increase local music awareness.

“I’ve gotten a lot more people wishing me luck and such and letting me know that they’re very interested in hearing my music, even though I’ve never met them nor have they seen a show before,” explained Aubrey Debauchery (née Pope) about her experience as a nominee in the acoustic/folk category. “So I think it’s helped a lot of people around town become more aware of what great music is actually right at their fingertips.”

Berkow sees even greater ramifications: “The CAMMIES have functioned as a support system for live music in this community. I am sure there is evidence to show that an active arts scene is also good for the health of a community—that includes financial health, mental health and spiritual health.”

It turns out, spending a lot of time immersed in Chico’s music scene is at the very least very enjoyable. As for whatever else comes from the CAMMIES—fame? fortune? groupies?—well, this is just the first year; we’ll have to wait and see.

I’m sure there are a few who feel left out of things—those who weren’t nominated and maybe didn’t come out to the showcases as a result. The thing is, after the CAMMIES have been around for a few years, exactly who won a particular award in a certain year will be the kind of information that will likely elude most of us, but the music, the parties and sense of community for those reaching out to take part will stay with us.