Valley Voices

Our kids are not all right – don’t let the live music die

Chicago performs at the Big Fresno Fair's Paul Paul Theater Oct. 6 in Fresno but they had to cut the show short due to a sound curfew from the fair.
Chicago performs at the Big Fresno Fair's Paul Paul Theater Oct. 6 in Fresno but they had to cut the show short due to a sound curfew from the fair. ezamora@fresnobee.com

It’s a sad rock story. However, one that has the potential of a happy ending.

In the early days of rock, Fresno was no different than Liverpool or London. Here in the Valley, young musicians were just as eager to release that new electrifying sound into their own communities.

Garages were filled with electric guitars, amps, drums, and fervent teens ready to play, even if it was just for themselves. Ethel Starr, of Starr’s House of Music, off of Ventura, nurtured many of those early rockers and took them to instrumental and band competitions around the nation. Her place was packed with young talent.

Some of those local musicians fled to bigger cities to pursue musical opportunities, while many of their just as talented friends stayed behind to keep the music alive here at home. Clubs, restaurants and bars got in on the craze and welcomed these young talents to their establishments.

Live music continued in the Fresno area from the 1970s to the early 1990s. You’d find Tower Records off of Blackstone, packed with music lovers scouring their bins until midnight, and after midnight the back room of Tower showcased a new group ready to jam.

Or Zapp’s Park, Wild Blue, Star Palace, Tokyo Gardens, Cadillac Club, Ratcliff Stadium, Fresno State Ampitheatre, and more, with folks jammed in like grooves on an album to listen to a band.

It was easy to find a place to listen to live music, and it was easy to find a place to gig if you were a band. A band didn’t have to pass a visual recording exam in order to play, they just had to ask the manager and they were in.

Many of those amazing musicians are still playing here in Fresno, along with new younger talent, but the venues for sharing their music have dwindled down to a sparse few.

Why? A variety of reasons. One is sound complaints. Even the Big Fresno Fair, our biggest community event of the year, has succumbed to complaints of neighbors. Last Friday night, an epitome of rock talent, Chicago, with local boy legend Lou Pardini on keys and vocals, had to cut their last set in half due to a music “curfew” of the Paul Paul theater.

What a shame. Because all any band wants to do is rock the stage and keep the music alive.

Today’s music in local area restaurants and bars mainly consists of what we used to call “Muzak,” the computer-generated, easy listening versions of favorite rock songs. Or they play a satellite radio station with the volume turned low.

Our kids aren’t all right. They are growing up without knowing what real music sounds like. They listen to tinny Muzak from their computer games, or singers who need computer generated auto-tune to even hit a note.

Our musicians aren’t all right, either. They are being held back by the very venues that should support them.

So, I plead: Fresno, Clovis, Madera – bring back the music.

Restaurant and bar owners, you have the power to say yes to our Fresno area’s great live music groups. Clear away a couple tables in your establishments, and enrich your atmosphere again with the electrified sounds of rock. It’s time to hear real instruments with real voices.

Let’s raise the bar, and rock the night away again.

Erin Lynn Cook of Fresno is a mom, writer and instructor. She also supports area music by organizing live music along Christmas Tree Lane for the two walking nights, and promoting and participating in two local bands. Connect with her at elynncook@gmail.com.

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