Braving two Chico music fests on the same day
On a Saturday when live arts and entertainment options in Chico were already bountiful, the added combination of the 12-hour Chico Live marathon and the four-club Chico Music Fest 2009 provided Chico with an especially ridiculous schedule of entertainment.
Chico Live, brainchild of the local jam-band provider Azariah “Z” Reynolds, occupied sun-splashed Chico City Plaza for more than six hours with artisans, artists and musicians sharing the bill. After sundown, the El Rey Theatre provided the Chico Live nightcap, with a knee-slapping double bill that featured Bill Nershi of The String Cheese Incident.
At the same time, Chico State’s Music Industry program’s Wild Oak Music Group hosted Chico Music Fest 2009, which seamlessly linked four genres and four clubs. It was kind of like a tiny version of Austin’s famed South by Southwest and closer actually to former Chico event-promoter DNA’s Nowhere X Nowhere fest back around the turn of the century.
My mission was to attend, consume and report on the two festivals. With my plan of attack schematically drawn up like a football coach’s game-winning drive to the end zone, I was able to maximize my evening by criss-crossing downtown, much of it on foot.
Though Chico Live started at 2 p.m., I got in on the fun at City Plaza at about 6, just as nationally touring Louisiana blues rocker Papa Mali started leading his trio in a gumbo of jam-infused material, including such diverse oldies as “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Ode to Billy Jo” and the Dead’s “Bertha.” It was a joyous affair, with a few twirling dancers and families with small children sharing the space with local artists putting brush to canvas to the strains of live music.
I ducked out at 7, to pick up my Wild Oak wristband at the 1078 Gallery and catch the first act of the Chico Music Fest’s rock show. Not to be derailed by 1078’s late start, I went back to the Plaza for Papa Mali’s sundown finale, before hitting Wild Oak’s “folk” show at Café Coda. While soft acoustic music likely came later with Alpine and Zach Zeller, Luke Byron and the Delivery Boys were kicking it out electric to the packed house, motivating several young women to move their feet on the tiny space in front of the stage to that band’s last tune, “Revolution.”
Keeping up the pace, I slid over to The Graduate, which hosted the reggae portion of the Chico Music Fest. On a stage erected between the kitchen window and the bar, local ska/reggae outfit Boss 501 filled the old barn with a wholesome set of excellent danceable, horn-laden tunes.
With my eye on the clock, and knowing I wanted to catch both halves of Chico Live’s El Rey Theatre offerings, I quickly drove over to Lost on Main to ingest some hip-hop. It was there that Eye-Que (performing while wearing a backpack) and Lynguistiks teamed up with the DJ and had the dance floor pulsing along with the colorful laser lights overhead.
Next, it was back to 1078, just in time for the rock show’s closing act, the visiting Stolen Babies, a charismatically ghoulish band led by Dominique Persi, whose accordion, gothic outfit and Siouxie Sioux-meets-Patti Smith vocal range cast a pleasing moroseness over the theatrical performance.
At the El Rey, my mind freed itself of gothic cobwebs and embraced the bluegrass-based sounds of Strings for Industry, an outfit led by renowned veteran fiddler Darrol Anger. With their set ending at about 11, and likely 30 minutes before headliners Honkeytonk Homeslice would take the stage, I took the opportunity for yet another culture jolt, returning to Lost, where the very talented Dusted Phoniks ruled the crowd that rocked to their onstage rhymes.
I ducked out and returned to the El Rey for what had been billed as the final show ever for bluegrass/folk-rock outfit Honkeytonk Homeslice, which features Bill Nershi, a core member of The String Cheese Incident, and his wife, Jilian. Just as Nershi sat in with Strings for Industry, Anger returned the favor by joining Nershi and company, performing for a modest but inspired crowd that tossed the band paper money as it finger-picked the bluegrass classic, “Lost All My Money but a Two-Dollar Bill.”
Finally, I’d had enough, opting to head back to the foothills while I was still awake. While it was impossible to take in all of both fests, by night’s end I had successfully hit six venues, caught all kinds of music … and lived to tell about it.