Where there’s smoke
Smokey the Groove burns up Chico dance floors
It might sound like something born of a late-night smokeout in a circle of bongos on a Chico front porch, but the band name Smokey the Groove has a much less deliberate origin. Under pressure to come up with something to call themselves before the first gig at friend’s house party in early 2014, someone caught sight of a poster for the iconic forest spokesbear, Smokey, switched out the “bear” for one of the band’s many musical descriptors, and that was it.
As it turns out, of course, the name is a perfect fit for the Chico-grown musical pranksters who have over the last three years built a reputation as an integral part of Chico’s jam-happy, dance-band scene. Folks in this party city have long had an affection for bands that create upbeat music and have the hooks and stamina to play long into the night. And with its fantastically varied combination of influences, Smokey the Groove has brought something fresh to the well-worn groove. As the band describes on its Facebook page, it “[combines] funky jazz, electronic drums … bass, [and] live horns to create a spacey, Eastern, live-tronic sassy feel that will change how you listen to music!”
Those who have already caught a live performance know that the band’s doing all of the above as well as adding a flair for dramatic showmanship—dressing in costumes and donning homemade masks while performing, and cutting the leash on sax-man/bandleader Kevin Killion, who moves freely from stage to dance floor as the mood strikes.
At the heart of the band’s unified fun-loving spirit is a bunch of long-running friendships. “Most of us met in high school through the Chico High concert and marching band,” Killion said during a break at a recent band rehearsal. “[Bassist/keyboardist] Austin [Farwell], [drummer] Kevin Valentino and myself have been in bands and gone to festivals together for years. We had a funk-metal band, and then a California bluegrass project, and now we’ve turned into Smokey the Groove.”
“We started out renegading—playing impromptu shows at friends’ parties and doing campground sets at the music festivals,” added Farwell.
With any successful group endeavor, in addition to getting along with one another, it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to produce what appears on stage to be effortlessly joyful and anarchic music-making, and Killion and Farwell agree that having a stable, central rehearsal space has been essential to the band’s development.
“We started jamming at [trombonist] Dean [Simcox’s] family business at Art, Etc. downtown,” said Farwell. “We’ve been adding friends to the band, till now we’ve become a seven-piece.”
The rest of the group includes violinist Gabriel Fairchild, guitarist Eric Jones and trumpeter Miles Van Housen.
The practice and diligence has been paying off. In the last year, in addition to playing the usual nightspots—Lost on Main, The Maltese, etc.—the band has also landed some bigger gigs playing the Friday Night Concert in downtown Chico, at the El Rey Theatre and a very late/very early slot at last summer’s For the Funk of It festival in Belden. “We played the 4 a.m. till sunrise set,” said Killion, “and had the whole place dancing and having a crazy good time!”
Next up is a headlining spot at the CN&R’s upcoming CAMMIES Finale & Awards Show, April 23, at Patrick Ranch, as well as planning for tours in “California, Oregon and beyond.”
If the band comes your way, deeply inhale, and get in the groove.