Chico State students, faculty, staff work to keep local music scene vibrant amid pandemic


Danielle Kessler

Performances at Laxson auditorium have been cancelled for the semester, but staff are still employed.

School of the Arts Productions and Chico Performances are each working on projects that will help music and arts thrive during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Paul Young, a music industry professor who runs SOTA Productions, said the faculty and students across the music and theater department are collaborating in exciting new ways due to the pandemic. The students are adjusting to collaborating with each other virtually and releasing their music virtually while in-person concerts are on hold. Young’s students are working with 10 different artists from campus and in the community.

Faculty are helping and encouraging their students to adapt but they are also “getting out of the way,” as Young put it, letting the students take charge of the events and shepherding the process along as needed.

“And so, some of them are in my class to study music industry, and that might be their major, but they play in that band, or they sing in that choir. And the recording arts student is in my class and vice versa,” Young said. “The students are intermixing in one of the best, coolest ways that, frankly, oftentimes in education, is not easy to do when you follow your major, and it seems like a student gets pigeonholed as, ‘you’re this.’ It’s really neat to see what happens when you see these crossover students having the ingenuity and knowing each other and imagining what’s possible.”

Young stressed the importance of adapting to change, especially in the music industry where things change all the time. 

“We’re doing (these collaborations) with just the right attitude,” Young said. “We adapt, or we suffer. What we’re doing is adapting. We owe it to our students. The student is the customer, the product and the purpose of what we do.”

Students are also collaborating with peers in the music department who have different majors. 

Anthony Paneno, a fourth-year double major in music industry and general music, mentioned the sense of community in the music department. “We’ve had our disagreements in the past, but we always have each other’s backs and the professors do a good job leading it,” he said. “We are one big family.”

Through his experience as a professional musician and professor, Young sees the current state of the music industry from several perspectives. 

“I feel like Chico’s music scene, although in hibernation at the moment, is one of the most condensed and alive that I’ve seen,” said Eric Holland, a music major, at Chico State. “I’m from San Jose and there’s a bunch of stuff music-related there. Only problem is that it’s massive and so spread out that it can be hard to gain traction. But here it feels like you have all the potential of the Bay or LA crammed into this small city, making things super accessible.”

Musicians are not the only ones feeling the strain of the absence of concerts. Venue owners and other employees are suffering as well. 

Stephen Cummins, director of University Public Engagement, said the Blue Room Theater recently closed due to the termination of their lease.

In terms of venue survival, the university has an advantage over many community venues because Chico State owns its auditoriums and theaters.

Cummins said Laxson Auditorium staff are still employed. 

“…but there are dozens of folks, our stagehands who just come in to work on shows and all of our patron service staff, many of whom are students, those jobs aren’t here this year,” Cummins said. “There’s a lot of people who depend on us, in part-time jobs, who aren’t employed this year.”

Cummins said Chico Performances will be producing a virtual concert series that will feature local and regional artists. The first of these concerts will take place around the second week of October. It has not been decided whether viewers will pay for access to the virtual concerts, but Cummins made it clear that the artists will be paid, possibly through community vendor sponsorship.

“One of the simple things people can do for local artists is buy downloads of some of their music,” Cummins said. “Buy a CD, buy their vinyl, buy that piece of art that you’ve been meaning to buy, if you have the means by which to do it. Any way you can support the local artists is really important.”

Students can check the Chico Performances Facebook and for updates about the virtual concerts.

Kelsey Ogle can be reached at [email protected]