Street music

Homeless youth record songs and poems at drop-in center

6th Street Center for Youth case manager and CD producer Aaron Farrell.

6th Street Center for Youth case manager and CD producer Aaron Farrell.

photo by Jason Cassidy

6th Street Records CD-release show, featuring youth musicians and a special performance by Jonathan Richman. Wednesday, Nov. 29, at Blackbird.
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Blackbird: Books, Gallery & Cafe
1431 Park Ave.

‘What I want people to know about me, exactly, is that I am in fact just as human as anyone else walking around the streets of Chico.”

Those lines are from a live spoken-word piece called “What I Want U to Know About Me,” one of nine tracks on the 6th Street Records compilation, a CD featuring works by current and formerly homeless youth produced by 6th Street Center for Youth (to be debuted at a CD-release show at the Blackbird Cafe on Nov. 29). And as with other creative projects that the center has spearheaded—such as open-mic nights, or the popular Writing for Donuts classes—organizers are hoping the CD will help break down barriers.

“It spreads awareness and gets the community actively involved,” 6th Street case manager Aaron Farrell said of the project. A local musician/producer/engineer, the 25-year-old organized and recorded the album, and sees both creative and social benefits to these types of artistic projects.

“It really changes people’s perceptions on homelessness and what that means,” he said. “The main goal of the project is to provide people with the opportunity to record.” The artists featured are the kids he’d hear taking advantage of the house piano (and whatever other instruments were lying around) during the center’s “music time.”

Weekdays between 1 and 4 p.m., 6th Street is filled with the sound of young people playing music, often their own original compositions. Farrell also organizes and produces music for hip-hop shows in Chico and Redding, and knowing that most of the young people likely didn’t have the resources, he offered to record their songs and posted a sheet for sign-ups. It started off slow at first, but soon interest grew to the point where the center decided to put together a compilation recording.

Farrell brought in his own equipment for the project, and set up shop in the center’s counseling room.

“Some people were gung ho, and some people were apprehensive,” Farrell said. But eventually, between the organized sessions and a few open-mic live recordings, the CD came together.

The young artists’ names aren’t listed on the CD, only the titles are, some of which hint at what they’re about—“Broken Butterfly Wings,” “Temporary Home,” “Rebel.” And each of the original tracks (there are two original poems, five original songs and two covers) feature distinct stories that paint pictures of the musicians’ experiences. The lead-off track, a live acoustic song called “Leather Jacket in June,” is particularly fun, with a spunky female narrator who sneaks out one summer night.

And in the middle of the compilation, “Tracin’” features a young man with smooth flow telling a story about dealing with life’s challenges: “When you’re put in a situation that you cannot escape/You run as fast you can and pretend it’s a race/But you can’t always run from your darkest fears/Sometimes you gotta chill and let it bring you to tears.”

Farrell stressed that one of the greatest benefits to the CD is how therapeutic it’s been for the young musicians to get a chance to reflect on the content of their creative output and what it means at this time in their lives. “Since that creativity is on a CD, they have the opportunity to look at their work,” he said.

And when asked how he felt about working on the recordings, Farrell deflected the attention back to the artists. “I just love that I have the opportunity to contribute. I love music. This has been awesome,” he said, adding that he hopes to continue recording more of their music. “I feel like it’s going to grow and get better.”