The kids are all right

One young local performer credits the Jammies with helping to launch his budding career

Christopher Fairman bends into the picture. Behind him, the confection rack at the True Love Coffeehouse.

Christopher Fairman bends into the picture. Behind him, the confection rack at the True Love Coffeehouse.

Photo By Larry Dalton

After the thin young singer-songwriter finished his four-song set at the True Love Coffeehouse’s Tuesday open-mic, he packed up his guitar—a Yamaha acoustic with a cutaway—and moved to the back of the room near the door. The performer who had replaced him onstage, Adrian Bourgeois, was midway through his second song.

“You remember me from the Jammies last year?” the songwriter, Christopher Fairman, asked. “You wrote some nice things about us.”

Indeed. Fairman had appeared in a guitar-instrumental duet with another Rio Americano High School student, Justin Nelson, which proved to be one of the highlights of the program, held last May in the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall.

“He was there, too,” Fairman said, motioning toward Bourgeois, an emerging talent whose father, Brent, is a longtime veteran of Sacramento’s music scene.

And, as it turns out, both Fairman and young Bourgeois are on the bill for the contemporary night of this year’s Jammies, too. That show will take place on Saturday, February 28, at the Crest Theatre, with Fairman appearing as part of a trio called Fairman & Friends, and Bourgeois as part of the Natomas Charter School group No Bands Land. (The classical half of the Jammies was held at the Mondavi Center on February 15.)

But more importantly, both performers are starting to turn up more frequently on bills at local venues.

A couple of weeks after that open-mic, Fairman, now 18 and a senior at Rio Americano High, was sitting at a table inside the True Love. It was early evening, and as the Cake album Comfort Eagle played over the sound system and deliverymen wheeled in soft drinks to restock the club’s depleted coolers, he recounted his moment in last year’s show, when he and his then-partner Nelson played two original instrumentals, “Weaselhopper” and “Pedro’s Song.”

“It was amazing,” he said. “I never had anybody cheering in the middle of a song before. That was pretty cool.”

Since then, Fairman began singing; he started about a year ago. “At first, all I played was instrumentals,” he said. “That’s all I wrote. I had a hard time playing guitar and singing at the same time. And then my mom pushed me to sing.”

According to Fairman, his mother played an important role in shaping his tastes. “My mom has always listened to excellent music,” he said.

Fairman said he started raiding her record collection, and he found one artist he really liked: Dave Matthews.

“I’ve had four major experiences with music where it just, like, hits you,” he said. “The first time was when I put on Under the Table and Dreaming by Dave Matthews, and I cranked it up, and it was the best thing I’d ever heard. That was when I was about 10.” Fairman talked his mom into taking him to see them live, when he was 11. He reckons he’s seen Matthews play live 35 times.

Other epiphanies occurred when he saw Neil Young play with Dave Matthews at the Bridge School benefit, and they performed Young’s “Cortez the Killer,” and at another Bridge School show, when he witnessed former Whiskeytown frontman Ryan Adams. “Right when I heard Ryan Adams, I said, I wanna be that guy,” Fairman recalled.

Of course, most musicians can tell you that you don’t just pick up a guitar and morph into a star. It takes years of practice. Fairman took a year’s worth of lessons at Northridge Music in Citrus Heights, just to get the basics. “I don’t think anybody should take lessons for a real long time,” he said, adding dryly, “everybody is self-taught, unless they really suck.”

Fairman’s current group, billed as Fairman & Friends, consists of him on guitar and voice, Dave DeMuri from the local Christian-rock band Fire Escape on keyboards and Jon McHenry on drums. They practice at school every day. “We have a class called ‘Small Ensemble,’ and we do whatever we want,” Fairman said. “That’s our rehearsal hour.”

Fairman wouldn’t say what happened between him and Nelson, his partner last year; chalk it up to creative differences.

Since performing at last year’s Jammies, Fairman estimated he’s played at least twice a month. He found a willing audience at venues like the True Love, a venue with an all-ages policy. And he found a mentor in songwriter-producer David Houston, who hears the unpolished gems in many young local performers and offers quiet words of encouragement. “Every time I talk to him, I learn something new,” Fairman said.

Fairman is now working on recording a CD with Houston.

According to the young singer, who credits music with freeing him from the shy man’s prison, he almost gave up playing music last year, before playing in the Jammies. “But then Skip [Allums] from Estereo came up and offered me a gig,” Fairman said. “He was saying he liked my music. Usually, whenever I’m feeling bad about my music, somebody will give me a compliment.”

He also credited his participation in the Jammies. “I think the Jammies helped me get shows last year,” he said. “I played, like, three shows before the Jammies; I’d played open-mics for about a year.”

Such is the value of programs like the Jammies, which are produced by this newspaper. (Disclosure: Yes, I work for SN&R, and part of my job entails covering these events editorially.) Add programs like the Jammies to others, such as Skip’s Music Stairway to Stardom, and high-school music and performing-arts classes like the ones taught by Rio Americano teacher Josh Murray (which Fairman attends) and venues that will take a chance on young performers, and an encouraging picture emerges. And anything that helps young performers find their voice is a good thing.

As for Fairman, where does he want to go?

“I’d like to progress,” he said. “I’d like to get big.” How big? “Big enough so that I could buy nice things for my mom.”

Perhaps somewhere there’s a pink Cadillac with Christopher Fairman’s mother’s name on it.