Chico’s crazy uncle

Uncle Dad’s Art Collective has branched out in every goofy direction

All hands on The Dude (Alex Coffin) during <i>Pageant Dads Experience 3-D</i> at the Blue Room Theatre.

All hands on The Dude (Alex Coffin) during Pageant Dads Experience 3-D at the Blue Room Theatre.

Photo courtesy of Uncle Dad's Art Collective

A title that begins with “Uncle Dad's” in and of itself suggests a certain level of weirdness. Take, for instance, Uncle Dad's Day Care. Would you drop off your kids there? (Please don't.)

But context is everything. When it comes to art, and specifically to Uncle Dad’s Art Collective in Chico, weird is often better. (So, it’s totally OK to drop your kids off at their next show.)

As founding member Josh Hegg recently explained, Uncle Dad’s is a loose group of a dozen or so musicians, dancers, theater types and writers who variously make up a handful of associated acts—the bands Bogg, The Pageant Dads, Clouds on Strings and Aubrey Debauchery and the Broken Bones, plus cabaret-style dance troupe Everybody in Outer Space—and officially formed under one name in December 2013.

“We get together roughly once a month, just make each other laugh and say, ‘What about this project? Is this crazy? Is this cool?’ If someone has an idea that sparks the imaginations of everybody else, we put it on our radar. Then we use our different skill sets to realize it.”

Dancer/choreographer Eva Blanshei in <i>Everyone in Outer Space: Lost their Marbles</i>, at Chico Women’s Club.

Photo by Melanie MacTavish

The group traces its roots back to 2008, when Hegg met fellow music majors Michael Bone, Matt Franklin and Matthew Weiner—none of whom are originally from Chico—in the freshman dorms at Chico State.

“As musicians or artists, part of it is being individually dedicated and good at the craft, but, especially in music, you also have to find the people who complement you,” Hegg said. “We met and just clicked in that way.”

They formed the 1970s-inspired prog-rock band Clouds on Strings, which has released three albums, including the excellent Pomology (2011). Despite developing a local following, the band “made very little money,” Hegg admitted.

In 2012, musician Gavin Fitzgerald attended a Clouds on Strings show. Fitzgerald already knew Hegg; they’d grown up together in Southern California. “We rekindled that friendship,” Fitzgerald said, “and the rest is history.”

With Fitzgerald on bass and some rearranging of the lineup, and some switching up of instruments, the crew started a second group, avant-garde jazz troupe Bogg, which has carved out a few more financially lucrative niches by being able to play a variety of concerts and other functions thanks to a repertoire that includes a wide range of originals and reworked pop songs. They’ve put out seven albums as Bogg, the latest being Summer Harvest, released in December, and hold down a popular weekly gig at Café Coda on Friday mornings.

David Kamrar as Michael in Uncle Dad’s production of <i>This is Thriller!</i>

Photo courtesy of Uncle Dad&#039;s Art Collective

As the band members began putting roots deeper into the community, and meeting more local artists, actors and players, side projects began shooting off in various directions, beginning with The Pageant Dads, an experimental-rock/theatrical quartet complete with alter egos (each a father of a youth beauty-pageant contestant). The comedic play-acting of the Dads led to the exploration of the more theatrical side of performance, and the crew decided to group it all underneath the same umbrella, and Uncle Dad’s Art Collective became “Facebook official” a little over a year ago, Hegg said.

Since then, Uncle Dad’s has produced a number of theatrical and musical productions, including the Pageant Dads Experience 3-D; This is Thriller!, a story-driven tribute to Michael Jackson’s classic album; and The Loveseat Diaries, an extended three-act romantic-comedy musical-theater extension of the Pageant Dads concept.

As for why members of the group have chosen to stay in Chico, rather than test the waters in bigger cities, both Hegg and Fitzgerald cited the community’s receptiveness to original art. Here, they can be as weird as they want.

“In Chico you can get away with trying something out that wouldn’t probably sell in San Francisco or L.A.,” Hegg said. “Playing in L.A., whatever’s hip on the indie circuit is what every local band sounds like. Here, it feels organic—people have an idea, then they do it.”

“You can go off into space, and people will forgive you if it’s horrible,” Fitzgerald agreed. “It’s a very forgiving town, artistically. Pageant Dads put on two original plays, and they were ridiculous, just so absurd. We think they’re funny, but that doesn’t mean anyone else does. But, Chico gave the opportunity for a band to put on an original play, you know? You can go out there and experiment.”

Further ridiculousness is set for 2015, Fitzgerald said. On Feb. 21, in the BMU Auditorium, Uncle Dad’s will be presenting Purple Rain, a show featuring local musicians performing Prince’s 1984 album in full—a different act for each song—with a full crew of dancers, set designers, visual artists and sound engineers bringing the production to life. (Last year, they did the same treatment with Led Zeppelin IV.) And there are more original productions planned from the minds of the Pageant Dads and Everybody in Outer Space as well.

“Who knows, man? We’re going to have a bunch of weird shit for Chico,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s for darn sure.”