Jordhuga

For many people in the late 1990s, Chico was all about outdoor keg parties and nights on the town filled with earthy, funky, jam music, typified primarily by The Mother Hips, Electric Circus, Puddle Junction and Jordhuga. All the bars had live bands, and you would make the rounds to hear each one. Even if a show wasn’t your particular scene, there were bound to be a bunch of people you knew hanging out, and it was worth grabbing a drink. People wore corduroy patchwork and hemp jewelry, danced barefoot, wore flowers in their hair. To make a profound understatement: shit got loose. It was a little bubble of the ‘70s that had somehow seeped through the decade between, swollen to a glossy swirling rainbow surface, and then, unceremoniously, it burst.

Something changed; maybe it was the inevitable forces of culture moving on, shifts in the economy, the transition from Clinton to Bush-era politics, the massive drug busts that dried up the nation’s acid or the influx of pills and cocaine that filled the void left behind. Or maybe with the passing of time there were personal truths each individual had to face once relationships had played themselves out. People came to a point where they needed to pursue new interests and live up to new responsibilities, or be stuck in the mire of aging without growth. Some fell further down their rabbit holes while others took a good, long look at themselves in the mirror and stepped through the looking glass.

All around us, Chico evolved too. Noise ordinances put a serious kibosh on the culture of backyard blowouts, and the city spent gobs of money in an effort to diminish Chico’s reputation as a party town. Many of the most band-friendly venues closed, and the remaining bars shifted more and more of their booking to karaoke, cover bands or DJs with a lower overhead. DNA’s Wednesday concerts in the park went away, as did Chico State’s BMU and Rose Garden shows. The extended family of musicians and music fans that had once populated the streets on any given night were relegated to the occasional show, doomed to estrangement. People started getting all stabby. Which is fine, I guess. Stabbing is the hot new thing and I can accept that; I just wish Chico’s amazing musicians were given more stage time. In all fairness, there are issues with unpredictable turnout that weren’t a problem when the live scene was thriving; booking a band is a greater risk for a venue, and at least on that end of things it is within our power as music fans to affect change.

Once in a while I’m reminded of how things used to be in those days, and that 21-year-old part of me wakes up with a flood of snapshot memories. Hearing that Jordhuga is gathering its far-flung members back to California to hold a special reunion show is definitely one of those times. Jordhuga was special; they had singers who could sing in delicious harmony, a tight rhythmic funk between bass, percussion and drums, and the melodic interplay of keys and guitar were purposeful in a way few bands from the Jam genre could pull off. In fact, I feel strange referring to them as a “jam band”—the characteristic long rambling jams that most people associate with that label never were their style; they kept it short and sweet while still providing the creative improvisation that made each show a unique experience.

jordhuga

This wave of nostalgia I’ve been riding lately started off bittersweet, but the more I immerse myself in video clips of “You can go Swimming” and “How High You Are”, all I feel is the glow. And after talking to the members of the band this week it’s clear that I’m not the only one; by the end of each conversation it was love and smiles, and the enthusiasm and emotional essence of that time—the beauty of those people and that sound—had washed over each of us.

I grew up in Chico immersed in the culture of live outdoor shows. I didn’t exactly take it for granted (I enjoyed the shit out of it) but it hadn’t really occurred to me that other people had heard of this little burg. It seemed so isolated to me out in the middle of farmland. The truth is, however, people were talking about this place: the friendliness, the art, and especially the music. Part of that reputation was fostered by followers of the Grateful Dead who had begun settling here between their travels. Eventually the older generation of those travellers had thrown down roots, developed their arts and contributed greatly to the character of our town, providing a fantastic environment for the younger generation to pursue their own talents and interests. By the mid 1990s Chico was known far and wide in the underground scene—a reputation we still have among many travelling folk, be it for better or for worse.

“We started out in Columbia, South Carolina,” relates Vocalist Travas Hunter. “Chris [Lawther—guitar, vocals] and I were writing together in an acoustic trio [with then-keyboardist Kris Windham]. Scott [Barwick—bass, vocals] and Marty [Cribb—drums] came along and it seemed to get real. We played some shows…then The Grateful Dead happened. Saw the last few shows of the East Coast Spring tour in early 1995, then Chris & Kris went west to see them in Oregon & California.”

Chris Lawther explained the first encounter that sparked the move to Chico: “Kris and I had visited, dropping some dude and his dog off after a cross-country trek, and kinda realized pretty quickly how music-friendly the town was. We sat on some porch with that girl Ebony, and started picking, and next thing I know Reid Seibold and various other folks are dancing in the yard. What else could a musician want? We came [here] in chunks. We were getting our act together there, and our keyboardist felt some moral imperative to try to get us to Chico. So the bulk of the band came out to Chico with a U-haul and waited a couple weeks for the rest of us.”

Percussionist Steve Hoffman had a similar story. He had grown up in Southern California where it was mostly a white-reggae scene, while he personally was getting more into the Dead. Someone told him to check out Chico, because there was great music happening up here. He recalled meeting Scott, Travas and Chris shortly after they’d moved to town. They had a great jam session together and they told him, “Just wait until you meet Marty”—who was soon to arrive.

For Marty Cribb, picking up and moving across the country was a more difficult decision, but he found it was the right one. “I bought a $96 Greyhound ticket and 3 1/2 days later I was living in Chico. I had never even been past Tennessee at that point in my life, so the culture shock was huge and intimidating—albeit incredibly accepting, nurturing, friendly and life-changing. I found my identity in Chico and with Jordhuga. I wouldn’t be a fraction of the human I am today without the shared experience with these guys and in this place. There is nothing I would trade for the years we shared creating wonderful music and being around all of those amazing people.”

The original keyboardist had to return to South Carolina rather early on, and was replaced by Andy Bryant. The band was really starting to click, and were taken under the wing of Puddle Junction, who invited them to play an overnight camping party that pretty much cemented the idea that this was where they belonged. That was the beginning of a great friendship between the bands and the first of many raucous live gigs.

 

“Favorite memory has GOT to be the naked party! Aw, man! There was a party… and we’re just doing our little thing, and everybody’s shakin’ it pretty good. I look up from my guitar, and everybody is naked… clothes off, everyone. That is funny enough, but then to look over at Andy Bryant’s face… oh jeez, that was funny. I’m sure I looked plenty surprised, but Andy’s face was just hilarious,” laughed Chris.

Keyboardists were apparently the most transitory band members, although in the final years nearly all the original members became sidetracked and eventually parted ways, many returning to South Carolina. In all there would be four different keyboard players, each contributing to the band’s sound and song catalog. In 1997, Andy Bryant left the band making way for Richard Cockcroft.

“I had two days to learn 30 songs, then we went on a three-day tour to Tahoe. We all traveled together in a 15-passenger van, with a trailer for the gear. Mostly, we all got along really well. We had to, due to the close quarters, but there was something else; there was a special feeling with this band. I had played in many other groups before, but this was the first one that really felt like we were going places. The music was all original, and (I thought) really amazing. Over the years of playing (1997-2000) I was a keyboardist, a bass player for a short time, and finally, the guitarist. The best thing about being in Jordhuga was the feeling of family, with both the fans and the followers. Great times, great memories, many shows played,” Richard said.

Jordhuga

Nearly every member was responsible for writing a hook or a hit song. That amount of talent and inspiration couldn’t really be contained by one band, and maybe it was the impending mortality of it that made it so rich and vital while it lasted. As each band member found that their personal dreams and side bands needed more of their energy and attention, Jordhuga gradually dissolved like rain soaking into soil. From that grew many other amazing and beneficial projects; multitudes of bands with different musical leanings sprung up on both ends of the country fostered by their skill and experience.

Notably for the Chico music scene, Scott Barwick went on to found the Origami Lounge recording studio and production company, an institution that’s given so many musicians in the area an opportunity to grow and step forward. Steve Hoffman (who has made a huge impact in his own right) said of his friend,”Scott makes things at a reasonable cost and it’s very professional, and it’s also very lax and cool… anything that Scott touches turns to gold. He’s so talented—whether he’s playing the keyboard, playing guitar, writing music, playing the bass—he does it all. He’s phenomenal.”

While they had played gigs in San Francisco, opened for such bands as Eek-a-Mouse and String Cheese Incident, played many festivals and regional tours, their home venue here in town was The Main Event—now Lost on Main. Appropriately, this will be the venue of their reunion show coming up on Friday.

Band members are flying out from South Carolina, counting on the proceeds of the show to lighten the burden of bringing their whole families together to share in the experience. But they’re not the only ones travelling great distances for this reunion. The response has been overwhelming; friends who have walked long roads apart are gathering to celebrate that unfading love that bound them all along. $10 will get you a window into a time gone by that may be overdue for a revival. You can even buy a little piece to take home from among their limited batch of shirts, CDs and posters. Tickets will be available at the door, but I expect this show to fill up fast.

Jordhuga – Lost On Main – Friday, June 21st. 9pm, $10

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Managing Editor for Synthesis Weekly. Amy likes to make clothes, plant flowers, and chase butterflies.