Concert promoter Justin Maximov has been bringing music to Chico for nearly two decades—and he’s not letting up
Remember when Queens of the Stone Age played the Senator earlier this year? How about when Modest Mouse played there, or when they played the Brick Works before that? Were you around when Primus came to Chico State? Or when Everclear or Mudhoney or G Love and Special Sauce played in the Lava Lounge? The list of bands 39-year-old local concert promoter/producer Justin Maximov is responsible for bringing to our little North Valley enclave is huge: Maroon 5, Incubus, Creed, Murder City Devils, Insane Clown Posse, NOFX, B.B. King and both Ice T and Ice Cube—it just goes on.
Maximov, the owner of JMAX Productions, has been integral to Chico’s music scene for the past 20 years, having run or been involved with everything from the seminal Hey Juan’s to Chico State’s KCSC radio and AS Presents, plus a long string of local venues that includes the Lava Lounge, Brick Works, Senator Theatre, and, most recently, the El Rey. The man with the surname that sounds like a gun is also responsible for helping make successful careers for several bands—Floater, Red With Envy and even Number One Gun—in the North State.
In a business in which shady characters and unethical behavior are common, Maximov has made a name for himself across the North State and into Nevada as a rare sort of man, one who is not only known as a consistent musical resource for these rural areas, but more notably as someone who has developed a reputation as being honest, fair and kind. After speaking with those who know him, the basic consensus is that Maximov is, to put it simply, a great guy.
If I were to give a name to the outpouring of good things told to me about Maximov by those who have worked with him over the years, I’d have to call it something like a “Nyyssfest” (that’s “nicefest” in metal-speak). All kidding aside, Maximov—who runs JMAX with his wife Stephanie, a local real estate agent—is indeed a very nice man. He comes across after a short while as intelligent, articulate, conscientious, and a loving husband and father of three boys—Isaac, Nicholas and Alexei.
“I love Justin. He is the only reason why any of my bands have had any success,” said Red With Envy drummer Nick Harris. “I mean, we worked hard, but he’s the reason we had success.”
As unlikely as one might think it would be for someone as seemingly hardcore as an intense, metal drummer to profusely gush over anyone (let alone another guy), Harris did precisely that when asked about Maximov.
Harris, as part of Red With Envy and fellow local deadly metal band Armed for Apocalypse, has played several JMAX venues like the Brick Works, the Senator Theatre and Reno’s New Oasis. He recalled the luck of a fledgling Red With Envy being asked by Maximov, back in June 2003, to open for Bakersfield rock outfit Adema at the Brick Works.
“He was way nicer than anyone I’d ever met before in the business, the most welcoming person I’ve ever dealt with as far as the business goes,” said Harris. “And his family was there with him. Justin is a great family man.”
Harris described the day after the well-attended Adema show as “the turning point for our band. Literally the next day we had fans.”
“Justin has brought so many amazing bands to Chico, like NOFX,” Harris added. “And it’s because he’s so nice and easy to work with. Bands love him, and Chico loves him because he brings so much good music to town.”
Bob Tolar, owner of Tolar Sound, the audio engineering company Maximov has relied on over the past decade for all of JMAX’s shows, is equally, effusively positive on the subject of Maximov.
“The unique thing about Justin is that it’s very rare to [find someone like him who] puts ethics before making a buck,” Tolar said. “He will go forward with a show that he’s committed himself to, even if it will tank. And I’ll still get paid on time. He’ll just pull it off of his home equity and won’t bore you with the details. That’s really rare in a concert promoter.”
Eric Hart, current owner of the Senator and El Rey theaters, asserts succinctly that Maximov is “an outstanding character” and praises his business acumen in helping make first the Senator, and now the El Rey, viable and vibrant venues for live music in Chico.
Maximov came to Chico from Santa Rosa in the spring of 1988 to attend Chico State and quickly got connected to the music scene by deejaying at KCSC. By the fall of ‘88, he was the doorman at now-defunct food-and-music venue Hey Juan’s downtown.
That same fall, Maximov “made a connection” with Chico State about putting on a concert and soon after became concert coordinator (from 1989-91) for AS Presents.
After graduating with a B.A. in communications, and a dissatisfying run as a music agent in Los Angeles, Maximov accepted a job offer in Portland, Ore., with major Pacific Northwest concert promotion company Monqui Presents.
His first day of work was in Seattle at Lollapalooza ‘92 as assistant to the owner of Monqui, driving a golf cart, shuttling bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden to and from the stage.
“I was like a kid in a candy store,” Maximov recalled, smiling. “It was so exciting to be up in Seattle at that time.”
In September of that year, Monqui put Maximov in charge of new-at-the-time music venue La Luna in Portland. There, Maximov ran into musicians he’d met in Chico, such as Vomit Launch’s Lindsay Thrasher and Larry Crane, as well as big grunge names like Smashing Pumpkins and Hole (he remembers one night in particular, having to literally carry a passed-out Courtney Love to her van).
“It was the place to be,” Maximov said of La Luna.
Despite the nonstop excitement of working for the concert promoter in the hub of the grunge scene in its heyday, Maximov “missed Chico desperately” and wanted to come back, which he did in late 1994. He started his own venue, called the Lava Lounge, where he brought in a number of name acts like Everclear, Cherry-Poppin’ Daddies and Sublime ("Three times!").
After letting go of the Lava Lounge, Maximov returned to Portland for a short while before moving to Sacramento, where he did concert promotion. On March 16, 1999, Maximov, accompanied by his wife, came to Chico to do a show. Stephanie went into labor the next morning and their youngest son, Alexei, was born. The family spent the next couple of days in Chico, and never turned back.
After being hired by the Brick Works’ Kristen Thompson in 1999 as her “in-house guy,” Maximov started up JMAX Productions (after a nickname given to Maximov by a girl he went to high school with) and the family business has been going strong for the past eight years.
JMAX expanded into the Reno market in 2001 and currently does more shows there than anywhere else. And after ownership at the Brick Works discontinued live music in 2004, Maximov concentrated his Chico efforts on the recently refurbished Senator Theater.
Maximov and Hart have recently resuscitated the El Rey Theatre as a music venue more along the lines of a performing-arts center than a rock venue like the Senator, and are in the process of renovating it to a comfortable, vintage-reminiscent glory while it puts on shows, such as the recent concert of popular young blues singer Jackie Greene.
Maximov, never one to stagnate, also has branched out into band management. He recently flew to Denver to watch his first clients, So Cal alt-rock band I Hate Kate, play to a sold-out crowd of 1,600 people.
Now that his name is on I Hate Kate’s Web site as the band’s manager, Maximov is getting calls from all over to manage other bands, a prospect that excites him.
Summing up his involvement with the music business, Maximov says simply, “It’s not about the ego. It’s a job that I love. It’s all about the shows.”