Devilish parade performance blasted

In most circumstances, the sight of 20 armed men marching down Main Street while blasting shotguns might elicit a call to the S.W.A.T. team. The last time this happened in Chico, however, a polite request to cease fire was all that was needed.

Chico police Sgt. Linda Dye said she hadn’t expected any problems when she gave the OK for the Devil Mountain Brigade to perform at the Parade of Lights, put on by the Rancho Chico Days Organization June 27. But at the parade, several parents were seen covering the ears of crying infants during the performance, and others complained to the police about the noise. So Chico police at some point during the parade asked the Devil Mountain Brigade, which bills itself as “semi-precision” drilling unit, to hold its fire. The brigade complied, continuing its march but refraining from shooting guns while it completed the parade route.

Based in Danville and named after nearby Mt. Diablo, the Devil Mountain Brigade marches with shotguns and fires choreographed volleys of blanks into the air. Sgt. Dye said she saw and enjoyed its performance in Paradise, where the streets are wider and the sound has more room to disperse. But, as she learned from the Lights parade, “In Chico the sound stays down in the street level because of the size of the buildings.” Several officers complained of ringing ears for hours after the performance, which at times featured all 20 shotguns being fired at once.

Though Sgt. Dye doesn’t recommend the brigade perform with shotguns again next year, the Rancho Chico Days group will have the final say on whether Devil Mountain will perform. The brigade was unreachable for comment.

City Attorney Dave Frank was not familiar with the episode but left a message with the News & Review referring us to Section 9.34.01-0 of the Municipal Code, which addresses firing a gun within the city limits.

Bev Crosby, a parade organizer, doesn’t know whether the brigade will be invited back, or even whether it will want to return next year. “I feel very badly about the whole situation,” said Crosby, who also blames the tight streets and relatively tall buildings for the added noise.

Chico resident Bruce McMahon said that, if the brigade performs next year, he and other families he knows will boycott the event. McMahon said he and his partner were forced to flee the parade and “hunker down” in the park to escape the noise, which scared and upset their 20-month-old daughter.

"You could hear it two or three blocks away, and the worst thing was, you couldn’t get away from it. It was making everyone jump," he said. "We asked the police if they would stop it and they agreed with us, and even said it was spooking their horses, but there was nothing they could do."