We built this city on rock ’n’ roll
Learning to love Chico’s musical subculture
It blares from the speakers in your car, the radio in your kitchen, the alarm clock in your bedroom. It floats carelessly into ears, infecting people with contagious lyrics and melodic strains.
It is music, and it is undoubtedly one of the college student’s most passionate pastimes.
Every city has a music scene, yet there is something different about the bands and fans that stem from this small university town. Maybe it’s the location, maybe it’s the people, maybe it’s the incredible combination of all that is here, but whatever it is makes a unique experience for any avid music lover.
Perhaps what makes Chico’s scene special is the fact that it is located at least an hour from the nearest “big city.” Population-wise, Chico has a lot to overcome. But this little engine that could has the advantage when bigger bands want to play Nor-Cal: There’s nowhere else to go. If you don’t play Chico, everybody north of Sacramento is going to miss out. (Unless you’re a mega-band and can draw enough fans to fill Marysville’s Autowest Amphitheater
As graduation neared in 2002, we saw the likes of Papa Roach, Ozomatli, AFI, De La Soul and dozens of other bands-gone-big sweep through Chico and rile up the crowds. But, hey, we don’t really need them.
That’s because Chico, fortunately, has an amazing selection of local bands that play live at the handful of venues (and often people’s back yards) on a regular basis. Their music ranges from indie to disco, funk to hip-hop, jazz to progressive, punk to reggae.
Oftentimes it’s hard to learn about where to go and who to listen to, but Chico promoters regularly go out of their way to let the public know what’s going on. The best way to find out about live performances is to simply look around you. Fliers adorn almost every shop window in the downtown area, and if you weed through the bad drawings and clever slogans, you may actually find a band name or two on there. Also, check the News & Review Calendar section.
If you find a band that sounds interesting to you, chances are others have felt the same. Ask around about the music these guys might play and who you can expect to see at the show.
For a brief musical glimpse into various bands’ work, you may find them at www.chiconights.com on mp3. The Web site, locally run of course, provides clips of a few of Chico’s bigger names, but if you want to really get a feel for the sound it’s always best to get up and check it out in person.
Make sure to do your research on the venue as well, because many of us under-agers are frequently left outside at those 21-and-over shows. There are a few strictly all-ages venues, but they’re a little harder to find. If drinking is your thing, though, you may want to check out the bar scene, which plays everything from DJ-spun house music to energetic punk rock.
And don’t stress about the costs: Covers run from about $5-$15, but there are plenty of donation-only shows.
The real feel of a city’s scene comes from the people you’ll encounter once you’re in the front doors. Because of Chico’s cozy atmosphere, you’ll begin to run into many familiar faces at your favorite spots, and these individuals are the very essence of the small-town music experience.
DNA, who promotes and does booking for the Senator Theatre and summertime concerts in the park, stresses the importance of the fans and the musicians in the Chico community. “As I’ve always said, a scene is only as strong as the individuals in it. Right now I think we are seeing a new era in Chico music,” he says.
He attributes this evolution to the numerous local “die-hard” musicians who have only recently begun to sprout up as business owners: Matt Hogan of the Incredible Diamonds co-owns Mr. Lucky; John McKinley and his wife, Dara, both Chico musicians as well, own Bustolini’s Delicatessen.
Not only that, but there are now more venues and more bands than ever before.
Gruk is one such local band, whose four members have been blaring punk together for the last few years. Mostly students, they are an up-and-coming staple in the underground music scene, playing everywhere from the Senator to friends’ back yards and even other venues around California.
Bassist Brad Lambert echoes DNA’s sentiments about the individual but also says that, “to have a successful music scene, you have to work together.”
Working together is what this scene is about: fans working with musicians, musicians working with promoters, promoters working with venues. Locals are realizing that it really does take a village to raise a child, or a healthy music scene.
The only problem that bookers run into, according to DNA, is how to “feed the college kids when their appetite for music is insatiable.” Luckily this poses no problem, for there are literally dozens of bands that play locally or originated from the Chico area.
They represent musical genres across the board, and they’re made up of the very people who may sit next to your in class or buy you a drink at the bar.
It is impossible to list off the innumerable band names that spring up daily in the Chico area, yet there are a few household names you will undoubtedly hear from time to time: the Mother Hips, the Imps, Mystic Roots, Brut Max, Hit by a Semi and the like.
These bands draw a crowd when they play, but it tends to be the smaller names that play most frequently and provide the energy that is the life-blood of a good music scene.
These bands—Indecisive Youth, Whitewall Slicks, Inverted Nines, Electric Circus, One Day Gone, Pawns, Stars Upon Thars and the Pub Scouts, just to name a few—give music fans what they really need, a reliable source of good tunes and great energy.
Regardless of where you go or whom you’re listening to, go into the experience with an open mind. One of the most amazing things about an eclectic music scene is that you are given the opportunity for exposure to bands and sounds that you would never otherwise spend time on. Open your ears, and your mind, to the subculture at your fingertips.