The Orion

Longtime local hosts open mics

Nathan Graves

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Casamajor performs at the Has Beans coffe shop open mic. Photo courtesy of Dan Casamajor.

Large cities and cultural centers often boast the great artists they have produced. Chico can boast its own, and one of its greats is longtime folk singer and songwriter Dan Casamajor.

Casamajor was born and raised in Chico and began playing music at an early age.

At 13-years-old he acquired a banjo ukulele and enjoyed playing in casual settings such as around campfires. To this day, he still has his banjo ukelele.

By 18, he was playing the guitar and composing his own music. He was influenced by artists of the 1960s folk era such as Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. He played his first open mic in 1967 in a now-closed Chico coffee shop, The Upstairs Coffee House, located on Second Street above today’s Naked Lounge.

Casamajor said at that time, not nearly as many people owned guitars and dabbled in songwriting as today. His talent aside, he began to gain local recognition. He played whatever small gigs he could including talent shows and informal festivals.

In 1969, Casamajor recorded and released a full-length album titled “My Family” under the name Dan Casamajor.

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“It has actually become a collectible now,” he said.

Fascinatingly enough, Casamajor’s young release goes for appreciable prices online today. Much of the demand comes from European and Asian collectors, he said.

Casamajor remained a solo artist for 45 years. It was only last year that he began to collaborate with other musicians. Casamajor currently plays with the local band Old Spice, which mirrors rock ‘n’ roll from the 1950s through the ’70s. However, Casamajor has always appreciated and utilized songwriting as a vehicle for personal self-expression.

“We all have our demons and our secrets,” he said. “Our things we’re afraid of and things we don’t like about the world— you can chronicle your own emotions.”

Casamajor has traveled and lived all along the west coast, but found his way back to Chico in 1996. He continues to make a substantial contribution to his hometown by now hosting open mics.

After discovering the Thursday night open mic at Has Beans, he decided to get back into the open mic scene. He noticed the minimal equipment being used at the coffee shop and after performing for a few weeks, offered the utilization of some of his own audio equipment.

As he got more involved, he began to co-host and substitute host until he eventually became the permanent host at the Fifth and Main Streets open mic. Recently, he has also been hosting the Tuesday night Gogi’s Café open mic, helping it to get on its feet.

Casamajor built the current Has Beans sound system. Using his accrued expertise, he found the necessary equipment and advised the owners of what they needed and where. With acute attention to detail, he installed amplifiers in the attic and a store-round speaker system that any audio technician would be proud of.

Casamajor enjoys hosting open mic nights. He finds satisfaction in watching the growth of new performers and helping them along with constructive assurance, he said.

“I like being the venerated elder at these open mics and being a mentor, a patriarch and a medium to get people on stage and encourage them to improve,” he said.

Casamajor benefits from the camaraderie that is created through these events. He has musical friends and peers of all ages, and they keep him up with the times, he said.

And he certainly is venerated.

Two weeks ago, an anonymous open mic goer thanked Casamajor at the end of his performance. He explained that Casamajor has helped him work through stage fright by offering a calming look to performers when the act isn’t going as planned. Talking to other musicians who have performed under Casamajor’s watch will yield similar responses of respect, admiration and gratitude.

Casamajor has the humble wisdom that comes with being a musical veteran. He has watched popular music alter and evolve since the second half of the 20th century, and while he does enjoy some of today’s popular music, he still holds a special place for folk music in his heart.

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be,” he said with a chuckle.

Nathan Graves can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.

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Longtime local hosts open mics