All Hands On Dex

About a year ago, Matt Savage launched his first all-ages venue in Paradise, California. The venue did great, but the town ended up not wanting him around and essentially forced him to close. He then took his business to South Chico where he received fewer complaints from neighbors, but noticed a decline in attendance due to the inconvenient location. On March 26th of this year, his latest venue, Dex (named after his one-year-old son), opened its doors at the ideal downtown location of 167 E. 3rd Street.

Managing an all-ages venue in Chico, especially in the expensive region of downtown, has never been an easy task. Previous live entertainment hot spots such as Fulcrum Records or The Last Stand (which operated in the same room as Dex’s current location) were temporarily successful, but without a steady stream of income from alcohol sales or other services, they weren’t able to stay alive solely based on ticket sales. Eventually, Savage will be faced with the same financial issues, but for the time being—with a ton of shows booked well into the summer—his business is gaining some traction.

“It’s an all-ages venue and I book everybody,” said Savage. “I’ve even booked a couple of the street performers. I just wanna give everyone a chance.”

The all-inclusive approach has worked well to launch Dex with consistent shows just about every night of the week. Specifically, Savage has experienced success with high school musicians who otherwise might have a hard time breaking into the scene without previous experience in live performance. Savage commented that by including everyone, he’s observed the development of a “community-type feel,” and minimal problems with youngsters disrespecting the venue—an issue that’s contributed to other venues, such as Origami Lounge, having to shut down.

“Everyone’s been real good so far,” said Savage. “The only thing I’ve encountered was some guy trying to sell [marijuana], and I had to kick him out. That was the worst thing. It’s an all-ages venue, so I gotta keep it family friendly.”

In addition to hosting rock music, Dex is also on its way to becoming the premier venue for up-and-comers within the genres of rap and hip hop. This Saturday, Dex will host nine rappers from Sacramento, Paradise/Magalia, and Chico. Savage was pleasantly surprised to discover that there’s a big scene for hip hop and rap around Chico.

“I think the rap crowd is just as good as the rock crowd,” said Savage. “I know they have stereotypes and everything, but it’s gone smooth. They actually ran security for me one of the nights. Some guy was smoking out front and they were like, ‘Hey, you can’t do that around here.’ It was cool. I didn’t have to do anything.”

Savage’s goal is to eventually expand into the empty 700-square-foot building neighboring his current location. If the expansion were to take place, it could mean some exciting developments for live music in downtown Chico for both the all-ages crowd as well as the rest of the music community. The venue could potentially bring medium-sized bands through town that are either too small for venues like The Senator/El Rey, but also too big to play at house parties or on mediocre sound systems. It’s exciting to think that Chico could be put back on the map for quality, up-and-coming touring acts. The potential for this future growth played a large part in Savage’s selection of the venue’s location, but achieving the desired expansion won’t come without its share of obstacles.

“Zoning is a big one. Plus, downtown isn’t cheap,” Savage said with a laugh. “I literally went through 30 different buildings in the last six months before I found Dex where it is now. It’s been an interesting journey.”

The biggest hurdle currently facing Savage is getting past those first couple months’ rent. Although it may be a deterrent for some bands, the venue has no choice but to keep a larger percentage of the door money than competing venues that profit on alcohol/food sales in addition to money collected at the door.

Savage explained, “The reason I have to take so much right now is so we can get enough pie for the rent. Once we get that steady stream going, then I’ll be able to adjust.”

The fate of Dex is going to boil down to one question: How badly does Chico want an all-ages venue that prides itself on a quality live experience? Do yourself and the local music scene a favor and check out one of their upcoming shows. If you have a good time, then spread the word. If you have friends in bands, encourage them to book a gig and keep the momentum going. For years, local musicians and fans alike have lamented that something’s been missing in the Chico music scene. It’s possible that with the support of the community, Dex could fill that void.

“Ever since The Brickworks closed, it’s been missing,” said Savage. “I’m trying to bring back that feel, that vibe—just that cool club that you can constantly go to and have a great time. I just want that scene and that place that’s safe to go and have a really good time.”

In addition to hosting live music, Dex offers a multitude of services for the community. Matt Savage produces and engineers records for bands as well as rents out musical gear and the room for bands to practice in. Contact him at mattsavage@sbcglobal.net

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Nolan Ford grew up in Chico, California with great respect and admiration for Synthesis and its mission to provide an alternative voice on matters of music, art, and life in Chico. In addition to editing the paper and managing its musical content, Nolan performs with various bands around town including Perpetual Drifters, The Rugs, Pat Hull, and acoustic duo, Emma & Nolan.