Spirit of Chico’s Valley Fever rises from grave as new LP


Ken Pordes

Chris Keene performing in the band Surrogate on Argus’s outdoor patio.

A key chapter of Chico’s downtown live-music story has been rekindled with a successful benefit the first weekend of November.

Music promoter DJ Jake Sprecher organized an LP-release event, which raised more than  $2,600 for KZFR-FM and 1078 Gallery. Over 550 attendees paid profits through purchasing tickets for shows at Argus, Duffy’s and Naked Lounge. 

The event acted as a celebratory eulogy of Sprecher’s past festival, Valley Fever, that started in 2018. 

The aftermath of Valley Fever’s cancellation in 2021 due to COVID-19 led to the creation of a 12-inch compilation. The LP’s release weekend celebrated the release of “Cracks In The Concrete,” which was streamed through Bandcamp. 

Valley Fever was Chico’s version of a festival-concept played out by other events like Austin’s South by Southwest, New York City’s College Music Journal and Boise’s Treefort, where performances are divided among different venues like a cross between a pub crawl and music festival.

“I wanted to do something to take the place of that momentum once we were able to start having shows again,” Sprecher said.

Jake (left) performing with Bud Armienti (right) as the band Beehive at Naked Lounge. Photo by Miles Claibourn.

A total of 14 local bands pitched in for the LP. Clips are available on bandcamp.com and Valley Fever’s Instagram page

“Cracks In The Concrete” has various styles along the indie-alt rock spectrum: the melodic, pre-grunge and metallic groove of “G80B” by Desperate Hell; the sultry pop in the candy-faded soul of “January” by Astronaut Ice Cream; and the smooth, yet zig-zagged, mellow distortion of “Locera” by Sleepwalker.

The release weekend’s turnout was successful after he spent five months preparing for the event. In the pub-crawling spirit of Valley Fever, 12 of the LP’s 14 bands played at three venues.

“It was a total smash,” Sprecher said.

It was Naked Lounge’s first show under new ownership since last year. One of the bands, Surrogate, performed their first show in two years at Argus.

“It was just a great community weekend,” Sprecher said. “It was just one of those feel-good weekends that reminds you of what a special arts community we have.” 

Sprecher volunteered as a DJ for KZFR in 2007, about six years after he moved from the East Bay. He became a staff member in 2011. From there, Sprecher worked another five years and still DJs. During the lockdown, he joined the station’s program committee.

Expressing gratitude for his connection to venues, Sprecher said he’s “unbelievably grateful” for the opportunities to play and promote music that was made possible by Chico’s music and arts community.

“If we didn’t [have such a community], somebody like myself never would be able to pay their bills doing this,” Sprecher said.

He loves the enablement his work gives him to put Chico on California’s entertainment map for memorable performances. Los Angeles bands Levitation Room and Triptides, who both performed at Duffy’s on Nov. 16, are examples he used for that rewarding and supportive experience.

“That gives you those warm fuzzy feelings when bands can show up here for the first time knowing nothing about it — they might just think it’s some college town — and then it winds up being maybe one of the best shows of their tour,” Sprecher said. “Whenever that happens, it makes you feel really good.”

Trish Howard of The Empty Gate performing at Duffy’s. Photo by Ken Pordes.

Having to pull the plug last year because of COVID-19, he “went through the classic stages of grief” and worried that the pandemic would impact more than the festival, but music in general. With venues closed and performances cancelled, he worked on deliveries for Duffy’s, the same way other bars stayed afloat when patrons turned to drinking at home.

“That was what was so good for me, personally, about the Cracks in the Concrete weekend,” he said. “It felt like a version of that same energy [from Valley Fever].” 

Looking forward to Naked Lounge opening up for more shows, he’s uncertain of when he’ll do the same version of Valley Fever again as he’s done in the past.

Waiting for things to re-stabilize from the pandemic, Sprecher said he doesn’t think contacting bands for the bigger Valley Fever festival to play at venues that don’t require proof of vaccination is the “best foot to start out on.” 

Concerns of vaccination proof are as novel to the music and entertainment industry as the coronavirus strain that started this new predicament faced by touring artists. 

This year, bands like Dead & Company and The Foo Fighters required proof of vaccinations or negative COVID-19 test results for entrance to their shows. In July, Eric Clapton announced that he refused to perform at venues requiring proof of vaccination. But two months later, he played at a New Orleans venue with a vaccine and mask mandate. 

Live music’s near future remains uncertain, yet hopeful, as performers work to harmonize this push-pull process with fan loyalty along with public safety concerns.

Shae Pastrana can be reached at o[email protected] and @Pineyfolk on Twitter.