It takes a village to build a music scene. Venues, performers and fans are the most obvious essential elements, but just as important are the linchpins that bring all three of these things together to create successful spectacles—the booking agents.
As these folks work mostly behind the scenes, their importance is often overlooked by crowd-goers, but anyone who’s set foot on stage knows that a booker’s efforts (or lack thereof) can make or break a show. In addition to the main duty, talent buying for a venue, a booker might be in charge of promotion, babysitting artists, managing the production crew or sweeping up at the end of the night. They need to establish and maintain relationships with bands and agents, have a good sense of what acts will work well together and adjust to the ever-changing whims of audiences. It’s a nuanced calling that requires tireless effort, as well as a very specialized skill set and sensibilities.
The four we talked to bring touring acts to downtown venues and often book them with local bands. Each shared how they got into the game, offered some tips on how others can get into booking shows and how new bands can get seen. They also all agreed that communication and cooperation can help build a better scene. After all, the battle isn’t venue versus venue, it’s about getting people off the couch and to the shows.
Jake Sprecher got into booking the way many people do: by being in a band. He came to Chico from the Bay Area in 2001, and the connections he’s fostered as a writer (for the defunct Synthesis), musician, KZFR DJ and all-around rock-’n’-roll renaissance dude over the past two decades have enabled him to present some of the most exciting local indie, punk and garage-rock shows in recent years.
Sprecher’s primary booking duties are at Duffy’s Tavern; he also oversees many shows at Naked Lounge and occasionally other venues. In 2018 and 2019 he organized Valley Fever, multi-day festivals with national and local acts held at various downtown locations, but that effort was halted by COVID. He still uses the Valley Fever moniker for some of his productions and maintains a Facebook page under that name to promote his endeavors.
“I started out by trying to set up shows for my own band around 2011,” he said. “Then you randomly hook someone else up and slowly but surely acquire a knack for it. Then, if you keep at it, it’s possible to start bringing in some income.”
Sprecher said it’s an exciting time to be a musician in Chico. “With so many venues going strong, everyone who wants to gets to play all the time. It’s awesome. … There are more options now than in my whole Chico existence.” He particularly noted the health of the all-ages punk and hardcore scenes—buoyed by frequent and well-attended shows at Naked Lounge—is especially strong.
Playing Duffy’s is both a rite of passage and a career pinnacle for many local bands, and Sprecher acknowledged the venue’s legendary je ne sais quoi. “To quote [local musician from the bands Severance Package and Tite Nauts] Josh Indar, ‘It’s the biggest little stage in Chico.’ There’s something magical about the living room/dive bar thing, you almost can’t explain it. I love it, the touring bands love it, and obviously our local friends love it.”
Sprecher said the Chico scene is accessible for new and established bands alike. “It’s definitely cozier than in other places. It’s not hard to get a hold of anyone … you can either find them on social media or bump into them downtown.”
Upcoming Valley Fever shows: Jonathan Richman (five shows): Aug. 20-22, 7 p.m., at Duffy’s & Aug. 23-24, 8 p.m., at the Blue Room Theatre (all-ages), $10/show, no pre-sale (facebook.com/valleyfeverchico).
From pop-ups to patio
In addition to working as a DJ and organizing annual record swap pop-ups for the last decade under the Outpatient Records label, Matt Garcia is the man primarily responsible for booking shows at Argus Bar+Patio.
Garcia said he got some booking experience while attending Fresno State—where he worked at the school’s radio station and helped organize on-campus concerts—but didn’t keep up with it in his post-collegiate years. Then, a few years ago, he started DJ-ing between bands at the once-empty space now occupied by Tender Loving Coffee, and gradually assumed booking duties.
After throwing some more shows at The Maltese and Duffy’s, he approached Argus owner Scott Baldwin and proposed using the bar’s back patio as a live music venue. “Scott’s been a wonderful partner. He basically said, ‘You can have the door money and it’s your space for the evening.’”
In the years since, thanks largely to Garcia, Argus has become a regular stop for local, national and even international touring acts. His calendar might be the most eclectic in town. He’s brought everyone from Ethan Miller’s psych-rock crew Howlin’ Rain to Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar to the welcoming patio at Argus.
“The shows I do are completely curated,” Garcia said. “I pick the acts I want to play and then pair then with the locals that I love, and it’s worked out great.”
Garcia said part of his success as a booker and promoter is based on how he treats artists, specifically those on tour.
“What we have going for us with Outpatient Records is hospitality,” he said. “We put people up, buy them dinner at a good local restaurant, and make sure they enjoy the experience. I try to get the word out that [performers] will be treated well in Chico, with a good solid crowd and a place they can feel safe. That’s invaluable to musicians on tour.”
Garcia’s main piece of advice for locals wanting to play is to get out and about. “We can’t know you’re out there unless you let us know. Come out to shows, talk to promoters, introduce yourselves. I might love the opportunity to present your band and your music, but I can’t do that if I don’t know who you are.”
Upcoming Outpatient shows: Bobby Oroza (Finland) and Gabriel Da Rosa (L.A.-via-Brazil), Aug. 12, 8 p.m., at Duffy’s, $20; Ghost Funk Orchestra (NYC) and Lorna Such, Aug. 30, 8 p.m., at Argus, $15 (eventbrite.com).
The renewed big stage
The stage inside the Winchester Goose has been the site of much Chico musical history. Long before its remodel and reopening as a bar last year, it was the home to popular clubs with names like The Blue Max and Cabo’s. One main feature of owner Rob Rasner’s remodel is the restoration of the big stage, which is now playing host to a wide range of touring and local underground rock, indie, punk, pop, etc. acts.
Like Sprecher, Aubrey DeLane (aka singer/songwriter Aubrey Debauchery)—who currently handles most of the music booking for the Goose—got involved with scheduling shows as a musician. She’s been a fixture in the Chico music scene, as a solo artist and bandleader, since the early 2000s.
“I’ve played around here since I was 13 years old and I’ve always booked most of my own shows and my own tours,” she said. When the Goose started booking shows last year, DeLane—who also tends bar at the club—said, “Hey, let me do it.”
She said one of the biggest challenges is getting people out to shows. “Chico has a great music scene, there’s a lot of people who are involved. So it’s not that we don’t have enough people, but that only a pinch of those people regularly go out to see live music.”
For this reason, she said communication between venue bookers is essential, and could be a little stronger. She noted Sprecher recently gave her a heads up about Duffy’s annual Halloween show and that Garcia has reached out, and that it’s important to try not to step on each others toes with a limited available audience.
As she is first and foremost a performer herself, DeLane said respect and good treatment for the talent are key to running a successful venue, and advocates for this. “There needs to be a lot of importance placed on the artist,” she said.
For performers and bands just getting started, DeLane—and all of the bookers interviewed—said it’s essential to have a social media presence, complete with audio and/or video recordings.
“Have good social media that people are able to check out. Something that shows what you sound like and even just clips of videos are all good things to be able to send someone instead of just saying, ‘Hey, book my band!’” she said. “Be prepared to show what you’re trying to offer, and have an idea of how to talk about your band and what you sound like.
“I get a lot of emails and I don’t know if they expect me to go searching for that information or what, but if you don’t describe yourself or let people know what’s going on, you’re not going to get good results.”
Upcoming Winchester Goose shows: Caleb Caudle (Nashville), Aug. 11, 8 p.m., $15; Gold Souls and Lo & Behold, Aug. 12, 8 p.m., $10; Blair Crimmins & The Hookers (Atlanta), Aug. 18, 8 p.m., $15; Alext Draper & The Trainwrecks and The Golden Travelers, Aug. 19, 8 p.m., $10.
Chico’s good-time roots
Rick Anderson, the man behind Chico Concerts, primarily books shows at the Chico Women’s Club. It’s been his main pursuit since leaving the position of General Manager at KZFR in Spring 2021—where he was the main organizer for the station’s shows (which KZFR still hosts at the rental hall as well)—and expressed his joy at being able to share his love for music with the community.
“It’s fun!” he said. “I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t fun. It’s just nice to be able to bring good music to people who really enjoy it, and I’ve really enjoyed doing it the last few years.
“It’s pretty simple in the long run,” he continued. “You just have to find music that people will enjoy and then get the word out. And I just love the local music scene … it’s really diverse and vibrant.”
One of Anderson’s strengths, he said, is having long-established friendships and working relationships with touring acts that consistently prove to be good draws when they pass through town, such as the homegrown Mother Hips and Sacramento guitar virtuoso Jackie Greene. He also expressed appreciation for Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (whose beers are poured at this shows) and the quality of the Women’s Club as a venue. “It’s intimate, friendly and has good karma,” he said.
Anderson is carrying on a much-loved approach to live shows, as the acts he brings to local stages follow the same roots-rock/Americana/blues/good-time vibe that has informed a long line of popular local bookers—from the late Don DiBono (Cabo’s, Feather Falls Casino) and the late Steve Schuman (North Valley Productions) to Bob Littell (formerly of the Big Room).
Anderson shared an ongoing dilemma he has with booking shows at the venue, which is illustrative of the sometimes strange challenges he and his ilk have to navigate: “One thing I have to deal with is the people who want to dance and the people who want to sit down,” he said. “Trust me, when you’re doing this, you can’t please everyone. But I’ve found the music will make everything okay.”
Regarding advice for newer band shows, Anderson stressed the importance of an electronic press kit with all the attendant audio and video links.
“You also want to include some other information, like where you’ve played and how many tickets were sold, something like that,” he said. “Just like a nice little resume of where you’ve been and how you’ve done. Agents appreciate some feedback from your shows, both on the business side and to show that people dug it and had a good time.”
Upcoming Chico Concerts show: Chris Cain Band, Aug. 17, 7 p.m., at Chico Women’s Club, $35 (chicoconcerts.net).