Playing for Change inspires Playing for Chico

Chico musicians play together for music-video project.

Hayley Walton with engineer Mark Zempel in the studio working on <i>Playing for Chico</i>

Hayley Walton with engineer Mark Zempel in the studio working on Playing for Chico

Watch ’em play:

Have you seen those Playing for Change YouTube videos? The ones where musicians from around the world—street musicians, folk musicians, widely known international artists (e.g. Keb’ Mo’, Manu Chau)—are recorded and filmed playing and singing parts of popular songs that are then mixed into one seamless virtual performance? Songs covered have included Bob Marley’s “One Love,” John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Ben E. King’s classic “Stand by Me,” and each of the videos creates a powerful pastiche that leaves one with a feeling of deep, soulful unity with fellow humans.

Plenty of people have seen these videos (“Stand by Me” has had 30 million views since it debuted in 2008), including 18-year-old Chico High School senior Hayley Walton. The bassist, videographer and serious classic-rock fan felt that the format could be an excellent way to showcase some of the talent in the Chico music scene. She posted the idea on Facebook and received dozens of responses from local musicians for what she’s calling Playing for Chico.

And those who responded were no chumps—Spark ’n’ Cinder/Mossy Creek bassist/mandolinist Kim Gimbal, multi-instrumentalist Dan “Whipple” Whittle, drummer Dave Breed and blues singer Amy Arendt, among others, signed on.

Walton wasted no time getting to work directing the project, soliciting song ideas, organizing musicians, scheduling time with home-studio recorders, filming and editing, and in just two months’ time, posted the first video, the hymn “I’ll Fly Away” (made so lovely in O Brother, Where Art Thou? by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch).

“It’s hard work, but a fun kind of hard,” said Walton, her short, curly hair peeking out from beneath her trademark fedora hat.

It’s nearly impossible to listen to their version of the classic and not start to sing, dance or clap along. The spirited song and no-frills video kick off with Gimbal on mandolin and Whipple on jaw harp and vocals and features another five players and singers filmed by Walton in a variety of Chico settings—from the recording studio to “The Hands” sculpture downtown.

“Chico has the best musicians because they’re so talented and close-knit,” said Walton.

The young musician began playing bass guitar and piano locally with other players, in clubs and on the streets, when she was just 16. She’s already filled in with various bands such as local legends Spark ’n’ Cinder, and she says wants to start a reggae band.

Next fall, she plans to take classes in Butte College’s music program, and her ultimate goal is to work in the famed recording studios of Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.

“All the big musicians work there,” Walton said. “I’d really like to keep the oldies alive and help new musicians get their music out.”

Last week, Walton gathered with a new group to start work on the next song for the project, the 1969 Norman Greenbaum hit “Spirit in the Sky.” The first recording session was held at the home studio of Mike and Kathy Williams of Chico blues quartet Second Hand Smoke. Mike played rhythm guitar and Kathy played bass, while Glen Burns of The Rockhounds played drums.

“I honestly think someday I’ll be one of the people who will be able to say, ‘I knew her when,’” Kathy said, describing Walton during the spirited session.

The majority of the audio for the project (including the rest of the tracks for “Spirit”) are being recorded at the home studio of local musician Mark Zempel. While Walton listed Zempel, the first person she approached, as her partner on the project, he was quick to credit her as the driving force behind Playing for Chico.

“There’s only one head honcho on this project, and that’s Haley,” Zempel said.

Eight or so musicians are slated to play on “Spirit,” which Walton hopes will take three to four weeks to complete. After that she will begin working on pulling together Chico’s own version of “Stand by Me.” (If you want in, visit her website——today and get on the list.)

Walton says she would like to see exotic instruments from around the world included on the songs, and hopes that, in addition to bringing together local musicians, the videos will inspire people to pick up an instrument and start to play music.