Nik Freitas, a singer-songwriter from Visalia, kicked off the show by standing center stage, joined only by a spotlight and his acoustic guitar. Reminiscent of a "folkier" Damien Rice, Freitas struggled to capture the audience's attention until about halfway through his set. Fidgety scene kids fluffed their overly hair sprayed hair and chatted while Freitas performed a short set, alternating between his guitar and a piano.
After a short break, Humboldt-based band Port O'Brien kicked up the energy a notch. Lead singer Van Pierszalowski played the first song solo before being joined by his other bandmates - Cambria Goodwin on the banjo, Caleb Nichols on the bass and Josh Barnhart on the drums. Pierszalowski, with his stringy blond hair peering out of his beanie, told the audience to prepare themselves for a "dance party and a sing-along."
Sure enough, the band led the audience through sing-along of "A Bird Flies By"
"You learn it once, then y'all sing out," he yelled out to the crowd. The audience wasn't singing alone, however, as Port O'Brien brought out "some friends" - Bright Eyes front man Conor Oberst and singer-songwriter M. Ward, who named Port O'Brien his "Favorite New Band" in an article by Pitchfork Media.
Shaking a tambourine in his right hand and a shaker in the left, Oberst joined the crowd in the repeated refrain "Ohhhhh Ohhhhh!" before scurrying off the stage to prepare for his own set.
Bright Eyes took the stage 30 minutes later, greeted by the screams of teenage girls and the occasional fist pump from the guys in the crowd, the band started into "Another Travelin' Song" from its 2005 release "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning."
After the cheers died down, Oberst and his bandmates launched into "We Are Nowhere and It's Now" followed by "Four Winds" before addressing the audience.
"We've never been to Chico," Oberst told the crowd. "It's out first time, and we're excited."
Oberst kept the crowd entertained in between songs with friendly banter, constant praise for the opening acts and anecdotes from his day in Chico.
"I woke up this morning to this tap-tap noise outside the bus window," he said. "I look out and see this dirty kid playin' the conga drums," he said. "That's what it's all about, that's the way to wake up."
Oberst kept modesty at the forefront, gushing about both opening acts numerous times during the set.
Referring to the merchandise table in the hall, Oberst told the crowd to support the other artists.
"Go buy these guys' albums, and know that you're supporting amazing musicians who just want to come play music for you," he said. "I'm not poor, don't buy anything of mine."
Bright Eyes managed to squeeze in songs from nearly every major release in between the conversational intermissions, as well as re-inviting Nik Freitas to the stage to perform one of his songs. With the support of a backing band, Freitas captured the audience's attention and gave a much more captivating and confident performance the second time around.
Though Freitas's cameo made for an "awww" moment, as hugs and brotherly love were passed around, the show's highlight was much more bare-boned and pure. At the end of the set, the band left the stage, leaving Oberst and trumpet player Nate Walcott to end the show right - with a chilling performance of "Lua."
The faltering nature that is always present in Oberst's voice was magnified as he politely asked the crowd to not sing along to the song, noting that he gets sidetracked and loses his place. The crowed obeyed; Oberst played and then blew kisses to the audience before exiting the stage.
But as part of concert tradition, Bright Eyes took the stage for a three-song encore.
During "Bowl of Oranges," Nik Freitas and Port O'Brien members could be seen bouncing and singing along offstage.
The camaraderie among the three bands, the stripped down renditions of songs, both old and new, and the personal interaction with the audience was a reminder that for all these performers, music is what matters.
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