West Coast Tour Diary | Modesto & Manteca
People always ask me where I am from. Specifically, what town I'm from. I think it's because people want to understand me, or more likely, it gives them a point of reference when to listening to my music. Maybe it gives them something to talk to me about. At the very least, I usually get a... "Where is that?"
I don't know if it's my rambling nature or if in a past life I was a gypsy, but I've always had a hard time associating myself with one place. That being said, there is a duality to which I am from. I grew up in a small town called Manteca, Ca. Manteca also known as "Lard" by Spanish speakers and by other people from other small towns who want to poke fun at my small town. In some ways, there's lots of which to poke fun. Manteca is a dairy town. And when I was growing up, there was a sugar factory on the south side of town that had a very strong and pungent aroma that could be enjoyed just by driving by on the freeway. And it's surrounded by farms. But in all of it's stink, Manteca is a charming, middle American town with lots of families and churches but not exactly what you'd call a music town. So it makes sense that I got my start singing in church choirs just like many people. And when I was just out of high school, I managed to "borrow" an ID and play local bars with my first band "Electric Poet" (the name was inspired by an article about Jim Morrison). We were just kids but getting paid to play our music while tired Cougars swilled Martinis, swayed their tired hips, and gave us the eye was my first taste of rock and roll.
We were so cool.
So Manteca, is, most likely "where I am from." And although I took the long way to finding music as a career, Manteca is where I grew up. But if you ask me, musically speaking, where I'm from, that would be Modesto.
Now Modesto, could be an older brother to Manteca. It has some farm communities and dairies and mostly suburban life but on a grander scale. But the one thing that makes Modesto truly unique in the Central Valley is its downtown music culture. There is so much great music in Modesto. On any given night you can find three or four places with live music. I know what you're thinking, only three or four places with live music? But you have to remember Modesto only has a few hundred thousand people in it. It is not a major metropolis, so it serves to say that a very small percentage of those people play music. And probably even less professionally. But somehow, Modesto is rich with quality music, live music venues and musicians. So that's where I cut my teeth. Playing the bars and clubs of downtown Modesto. Music houses, lounges, cafes, restaurants, and cigar bars and pretty much anywhere else they would pay me to play music. It's hard to imagine that anyone can actually work as a professional musician in the Central Valley. But in Modesto, it's possible (if you work really hard, of course.) Not to mention, Modesto has its own music awards. And a couple of music festivals. Also, it's home to one of the nation's largest slam poetry competitions and even a couple of record labels. It's a pretty happening place for suburbia.
Back in 2005, I won the MAMA (Modesto Area Music Association) Award for "Best Acoustic Artist". It was the first real validation for my art, and for that I am grateful. It was also the first place where I played on the radio. Imagine that. No record label, no management, no record to speak of, besides some homemade demos and a live album (that I recorded myself with a CD burner and a 2-channel mixer at a show), and I got to play on the major radio station. Why, you ask? Because the people of Modesto care about independent and local music. So, as you can imagine, I was looking forward to my show in Modesto.
A friend of mine referred me to Camp 4 Wine Bar, which for a wine bar with a campfire theme, is a really classy joint. It was a blast to see old friends and play to a full house in the birthplace of so many of my songs (not to mention Damon, the owner, is a great guy and has a great selection of beer and wine). Unbeknownst to me on the same night of my show, corporate Clear Channel radio fired almost all staff that had supported local music and turned the station into an "I Heart Radio" (read: I hate music) Top 40, programmed station. It was "the day that music died" in Modesto. And yet, amidst all this uncertainty about the future of local music in Modesto, these same folks came out and supported me at my show. As I played a third set not aware of what they were going through, but just because I love these people, I had no idea what that extra hour would mean. And I hope it helps to keep the light burning for all the hard working and sometimes thankless supporters of independent music. It takes a village, folks. The night ended in revelry. With cheers, and tears, and hugs all around. Because in Modesto, we have each other, we stick together and we keep on, keeping on.
The next day, I woke up ready for my show in Manteca. For me personally, playing the town where I was raised is a kind of nerve racking affair because as you can imagine, you have no idea who from your past will show up. Luckily for me, I have no seedy friends or enemies that could show up unannounced (ahem). Not a one. Knowing that this concert could easily turn into a high school reunion, I thought, "you better be on your game tonight, Roem Baur." This might be my chance to show that cheerleader what she missed out on. Just kidding.
The concert venue is a friend's coffee shop there in Manteca and I can't say enough about what she's done with the place. She's remodeled it from a small town local hang to a metropolitan bistro that could be found in any culture rich major city without losing it's small town charm. I've got to hand it to Heather, the owner, because even with the inherent snobbery that someone from San Francisco carries with them into every meal, unintentionally of course, I was blown away by the execution and freshness of the food. (Only snobs use the word "execution" when referring to dinner.)
So... I was setting up for an intimate (read: small) show and the place literally filled up! Friends, friends of friends and old friends once lost with all the sounds and smiles that accompany a warm homecoming. It was wonderfully overwhelming. It's actually quite hard to sing songs (even those you have sang many times before) and not to be distracted by the rush of memories that old faces bring from so many years ago, but it was a welcome reminder that we've all come a long way. Some closer, some further from the paths we thought we'd be on. But we are doing okay.
We are all doing okay.