The day the Circus left town
Local music impresario DNA reminisces about a decade of Electric Circus
As a promoter, I first worked with Electric Circus back in 1992, for a Tuesday-night concert downtown. It was one of those early summer evenings when the sunlight played through the mighty elms in the Downtown Plaza Park and gentle breezes blew dry the perspiration on bodies. When Brian “Gravy” Asher (guitar), Dave Breed (drums), Chris Henderson (bass), Saul Henson (guitar) and Mark D’Anthony (congas) entered the park, all heads turned and followed the modern-day Monkees, with their long hair and post-pop psychedelic outfits shimmering. Amidst a crowd of smiling people, Electric Circus began its long reign atop Chico’s jam-band scene, kicking off a joyous run of over 10 years filled with concerts, festivals, potlucks, proms, benefits and even a naked Jell-O party or two.
A little history: Ecstatic drummer Breed moved on to other bands, notably Ali Weiss’ Nothing Day, and then to LA, from where he has just returned. Breed worked his way through Gravy Brain and Stout and Downers before finally finding a fitting role as lead guitarist in the now defunct Puddle Junction. Currently his talents are spread between graphic design and the band Second Nature. Another original member, Mark D’Anthony, moved to Maui to start a successful paper that embraces the local community.
Throughout Circus’ existence, the space between players went unnoticed by fans, as other boys filled in. Gary Dutra, a shredding guitarist and smooth vocalist, took the reins, allowing Henson more time to explore his own playing. New drummer Mike Waltz moved into the back seat, replacing two drummers and bringing his distinctive voice to classic covers from the likes of Gram Parsons and The Band. But Circus was much more than a cover band, and original songs poured forth.
From Latino-influenced beats to songs with a country twang, Circus seemed able to play any style of music with a newfound glee and abandon. Of course, as with any true rock-'n'-roll band, the stories went beyond the stage.
It is said that you can still ask any local taxi driver to take you to the Circus house and you’ll end up at 370 4th St. But it was the notorious Love Ranch on Forest Avenue where illicit batches were brewed, birthmarks were revealed, bachelors had babies and marriages dissolved. It was a time, before Chico State President Robin Wilson effectively put the kibosh on local fun, that you could ride your bike down to Fratville, pay a buck or two, and find yourself amidst 1,000 kids, 20 frosty kegs and Electric Circus. If any band single handedly made Sierra Nevada Pale Ale a household word, it had to be Circus. Locally, their popularity was immense.
A few years back, Saul Henson returned to Chico State to pursue scholarly desires, which allowed Circus to put out the call once again. Several players tried out, but it was Derek Zane of Blackfoot Honey who fit the bill. With his rock star good looks, the band was almost complete. Enter keyboardist Don Scott, who added an explosion of color that made the Circus truly light up the big tent.
For the last four years it was this aggregation that played every venue in Chico, making our nights less lonely and allowing sparks of love to shoot across the dance floor.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that, besides perhaps Spark ‘n’ Cinder, no other band has done so much for local organizations. If the Circus has played over 1,000 gigs, then at least 200 of them were for the benefit of local people and nonprofits.
Yes, it’s been 10 years since I’ve worked with Electric Circus, and I’m happy to say that in my book of rock ‘n’ roll they are No. 1.