Dear Chico, let’s jam

Arts editor’s year-end letter to Chico’s music scene

Who’s up for a drum circle?

Who’s up for a drum circle?

background photo by Olaf Gradin <br>photo illustration by Ty Gorton

To whom I may have burned: I’m sorry.

In the two decades I’ve spent observing, participating in and commenting on Chico’s music scene, I’ve taken a lot of shots at the musical genres I wasn’t a fan of. My usual targets have been electronic music, jam bands and any genres filtered through New Age spiritualism—basically, the Burning Man scene. If it involved trances, grooving or dancing to the same beat for hours on end, I was ready with my flaming hater-arrows.

I can rant for pages about why I’m not a fan of the styles, but the complaints normally boiled down to something along the lines of: “It’s just the same stuff repeated over and over.”

As hard as it may be to believe, I actually am not here to whine. Something happened to me in 2010, and (I can’t believe I’m about to type this for everyone to read) … I no longer hate Burning Man music.

What happened? How’d I go from slouching in the back of the room with my hands in my pockets to kicking up dust with the twirlers up front? In a word: CAMMIES.

While I may have been around for the previous four years of the CN&R’s promotion of the Chico Area Music Awards, in 2010 I was hired to produce the CAMMIES festival and the 12 genre showcases that preceded it. And as such, I was required, unlike in years prior, to attend every single show. Before this year’s CAMMIES events, CN&R arts editor or not, I made it a point not to attend shows where the style of music was something I actively hated. My thought being: Why go if I’m just going to bag on it? I can send the writers who dig it to cover it.

Then, the CAMMIES Funk/Jam Showcase happened. Six of Chico’s longest-winded party bands—Spark ’n’ Cinder, Electric Circus, Swamp Zen, Gravybrain, Audio Therapy and the Jeff Pershing Band—one after the other at Nick’s Night Club in what I feared would be the longest, most painful night of my life. The night was long, for sure. And jammy, spacey, groovy and sometimes kinda stoney, but it was also really, really fun. The place was packed with partiers, and each band, without exception, brought an energetic commitment to making sure people danced—and they succeeded. The same thing had happened at the blues night, and it happened again at the electronic night. It was fun to witness the creation of energy and an impressive succession of skilled musicians who understood how to make a connection with the audience.

Even though I never witnessed much of their music before, I actually knew more than half the artists personally (because musicians are cool people), and it was humbling to see them do what they do so well.

And as far as that whole “it all sounds the same” argument goes, I learned something else as well. When you are at a show, listening all night to five bands of the same genre (whether or not it’s a style you enjoy), any music can get repetitive. Even in jazz, where the point is often to abandon riffs and explore variety through improvisation, if you let the room’s ambience bleed together, the show will take on one familiar jazzy tone.

So, I always knew that Chico was full of bands (more than 400!). And now I’ve seen that for all of them, whatever the style, there is at least one of my fellow Chicoans who is impacted by the music—be it catharsis, inspiration or appreciation of beauty.

Now that I’ve witnessed this, I can’t go back. As a music fan/writer, I’ll still filter music through my personal tastes and critically comment on what I hear as the good and the bad. But as an arts editor in Chico, I can’t help but be more open to the scene as a whole. I’m not saying you’ll catch me shuffling around the dance floor doing the white-man’s overbite at the next blues showcase, but I’ll likely at least be hiding in the back, nodding along with my hands in my pockets.