Soup and a song

Bob Backstrom rocks Bustolini’s and beyond

Bob Backstrom wins the “Find Bustolini’s in the Mural” game in the dining room of his café/deli.

Bob Backstrom wins the “Find Bustolini’s in the Mural” game in the dining room of his café/deli.

photo by alan sheckter

Presented by Bob:
At Bustolini’s: Tonight (July 28), 8 p.m., High Beamz; Saturday, July 30, 8 p.m., CJ Alegre and Uni and her Ukelele. At the Blue Room Theatre (139 W. First St.): Friday, July 29, 10:30 p.m., Bustolini’s comedy showcase.
Bustolini’s Deli & Coffee House
800 Broadway 892-1790

Even if you don’t know Bob Backstrom personally, there’s a decent chance that you’ve swayed along to one of the music acts he’s brought to Chico or perhaps even taken delight in one of the savory soups for which he’s known at his Bustolini’s Deli & Coffee House.

In several ways—as a sports writer, restaurateur and now music impresario—Backstrom has for many years served the Chico-area community he loves. Chronically jovial, he has an enthusiasm for life that is infectious. So is the hearty, contagious laugh that rises above the din at the parties he puts on.

And Backstrom’s now preparing for what likely will be his most ambitious party yet: Coming this Aug. 19 and 20, the Chico Legends Festival ( will take place at Tuscan Ridge Golf Club (on the Skyway between Chico and Paradise). Headlined by Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers and rapper Chali 2Na, the two-day event will include camping and the obligatory artisans, food vendors, a beer garden, a slip-and-slide at the 10th hole and more. Friday will have a reggae/hip-hop theme, and Saturday will include jam bands, rock and Americana sounds.

The title “Chico Legends” (not to be confused with the popular Chico Legends showcases at Duffy’s Tavern hosted each year the day after Christmas by local rap crew Dr. Becky Sagers Ph.D.) works as “kind of a past, present and future of Chico,” Backstrom explained, adding that the criterion was simply “that they all had to have played Chico at least once.”

Other featured acts include locals Twisted Strategies, Swamp Zen, Electric Circus, PYRX, The Amblers and The Poa Porch Band. Also along for the ride are Chico-bred Mystic Roots, and several regional acts including ZuhG (Sacramento), Moksha (Las Vegas) and Dead Winter Carpenters (Lake Tahoe).

“We want to especially embrace the Chico community,” Backstrom said. “We want to give something back, and for the people of Chico to enjoy their music all in one place; and we want people from other towns to visit and see what we have to offer.”

The festival, co-presented by local theater vet and Blue Room Theatre board member Steve Swim, marks a culmination of sorts in Backstrom-presented events, which began three years ago. But the story really goes back to 2005. That’s when Backstrom’s presence at Bustolini’s began, after he left the newspaper business for the 130-year-old former brewery/hotel/brothel-turned-gourmet-deli in the building at the corner of West Eighth Street and Broadway. Since then, the venue’s eclectic sandwiches, soups, fresh-baked breads, varied selection of sodas and beers and monthly exhibits of art have developed a devoted following.

Backstrom soon began simultaneously carving a niche into the local music scene. Typically open till 4 p.m., the deli tosses off its apron and lets its hair down several times a month (twice this week, with High Beamz tonight, July 28, and CJ Alegre with Uni and Her Ukelele Saturday, July 30) to reopen as an intimate little nightclub. The mostly acoustic venue has offered an array of singer-songwriters, jazz, bluegrass, gypsy guitar and comedy performances—by both local (MaMuse, Railflowers, etc.) and touring (Montana Slim, Taarka and Sean Hayes, to name a few) acts—as well as special events, such as a City Council campaign benefit for Mark Herrera.

The deli’s dining room makes for an unquestionably small performance venue, but that’s also part of its charm. “The perk is that shows here are intimate, and you can bring an out-of-town person here and they can play for a full house,” said Backstrom, who hosted Nathan Moore’s Hippy Fiasco Tour last month. “Moore said it was his favorite show on the tour and his manager said it was the best he ever sang.”

Backstrom has also done well presenting comedy shows, despite his own humbling experience as a comedian. “I did stand-up in Reno at a friend’s bar and bombed,” he said. “It was the worst five minutes of my life.”

The first comedy night at Busto’s drew 50 people, and the second gig filled the deli to capacity. The Blue Room’s Swim performed at both gigs and realized that a bigger venue was needed for the comedy nights, and soon the Bustolini’s Comedy at the Blue Room series was born (next performance: Friday, July 29).

Bustolini’s has gained a reputation as a performance venue, and musicians and booking agents from Sacramento, Portland and beyond are now calling, which has led to Backstrom moving his productions into bigger rooms around town, such as Lost on Main and the Chico Women’s Club.

“Chico has a rap [as a town] where audiences won’t pay more than $5,” said Backstrom, “but I’m a people person, and whatever I can do to bring music to Chico, I will.”