A letter to Nevada City

Dear Nevada City,

Last night I was out in your wilds and down at the old Chief Crazy Horse bar. Casual Fog was playing and the room was full of young people, and old people, the bartenders were frantically busy. It was an electric night.

It reminded me so much of the first night I spent here, New Year’s Eve a couple years back, when we stumbled accidentally into Cooper’s to watch the Rolling Stones cover band. That night was so invigorating. Kate and I were so new to everything, the world, apartments, a town, a home, all seemed so far away but necessary. In Cooper’s that night the scene was crowded with people, so young and together and excited about music that it felt like it could have been a scene from any big city in the United States, not some little tiny town up in the Sierra Foothills. It swayed us to move here, we were within throwing distance of San Francisco, Sacramento was there if we needed it. We could continue our road trip somehow with a stop along the way, in the last destination our road trip had taken us: Nevada City.

We stopped in Nevada City in the first place because it was on the way to Auburn, where Kate would settle for a couple of weeks at her parent’s house in time for Thanksgiving. Most campsites had long since closed for the season, and we just saw on the map National Forest campsites along the North Fork of the Yuba River, which meant: open to camp. We spent one night there on the Yuba, and then drove down into Nevada City. I remember reading about the town as we had always done on the trip from our guidebook. It said a lot about how many bookstores there were. How charming the town was. How it was a haven for bohemian artists and poets from the 60’s.

We found it to be pleasant in November. It felt like an island in the trees. I could sense the rest of California around it, which made me happy. We had coffee from the Mekka, walked around the little streets. We got some groceries and went to spend our last night of the trip camping on the shores of the reservoir up Hwy. 20.

That was a sad night. All the moves we knew so well, gathering wood, preparing dinner out in the chilly open air on the campstove. Snuggling up in the back of the truck, getting up to the crisp morning.

We moved here to Nevada City because of that New Year’s Eve. We had been looking for a place to live for a month, unable to pull the trigger on going anywhere it seemed… San Francisco was too expensive and too big. Portland too familiar. Mendocino we had done, and it was the smallness of that place that made us leave in the first place.

Luck made us find a charming little apartment on Deer Creek. Bohemian and old, dirty and cold, but charming all the same. It would be our art studio/recording studio. We would have all kinds of friends our age, they would stop by to visit us since we were right in town. We would find jobs and walk across the bridge to them.

It was so hard though. I spent four months unemployed. How I survived I don’t know. It was depressing. And then I did get a crummy job waiting tables at a mediocre restaurant in town. I couldn’t even eat the greasy food, the tips weren’t that great. There was nothing glamorous about it. Not fine dining, not historical, just a place.

And I didn’t really meet people. We made a few good friends, but there was no getting in with the kids in this town. If you were a stranger here, you were just an outsider. You were mistaken to be here or you were somehow taking advantage of it by existing here. We’d go to a couple parties when Cody would invite us, but all we ever got asked is how we came to be here. From there it didn’t really matter. We weren’t from here.

I finished my album. I met another couple of really good friends, and got a new job at the extremely shoddy local paper. Things could have gone so well. I was ready to make podcasts and write stories and do great design. But any new voices couldn’t be heard at that paper. The “entertainment editor” was severely out of touch with reality, extremely uninspired, and closed off to the real music scene that was happening here. Such a sad waste of talent that place. Kate found a job at the cool hip gallery in town, but it quickly dissolved because of some very strange lack of communication. I hadn’t heard from the guy I had framed photographs for for months… out of the blue he just didn’t call. I still haven’t heard from him. All the promise of this town would go up the roller coaster, and then swoop down terribly.

I coped by taking long drives into the mountains. I missed Mendocino (and still do) terribly. We may not have had many friends, but at least they weren’t even there, anywhere to be found. In Nevada City there were so many people we could know, but the roller coaster always swooped back down.

Things rolled here and there. I recorded with some of the amazing musicians in this town. Truly there is real artistry coming out of this place, be it an after effect of the previous generation, the bonding of small town shared stories, the air, the river, the trees, I don’t know, but it is unique, thoughtful, intelligent, anti cool, refreshing. I know that it is because I play an instrument that is in demand, but that’s fine, I loved the opportunity to create with people.

Aaron Ross and Cody Coyote are so amazingly dear to me. Aaron is the most talented songwriter I have known personally, Cody is sweet, cool, and has such an amazing voice. Alela was kind and courteous for her recording session, Mariee a sweetheart and so modest. Joanna Newsom dancing to the Moore Brothers on a random Saturday night at Cooper’s. Dana kept calling me for recording sessions, hopefully he still will! Dan Elkin, so driven, talented, and passionate. David Torch a humble, incredible person. Jonathan Hischke, truly gifted, Neil Morgan, a person who I felt great affinity for in only 30 minutes of conversation. In other words… such an incredible group of people!

I was able to finish my album here. And when I did, Eric Dickerson helped me really cull it down, and inspired me in the process. I wanted to play. And I have, a little. I got a new job. Things feel better now.

And yet, last night, I just wanted you to know that I am so enamored with you, but feel that I will never truly know you Nevada City. Casual Fog encompasses everything I love about the town, a band of not just really talented people, but a group of some of the nicest people you’ll meet. I want it all to shine, I want something magical to come of this place, but dammit I want to be a part of it somehow. I want to FEEL like I belong.

There are so many blessings, I got to meet, thanks to Laura Brown, Gary Snyder! A life long dream. Just to meet him. And one day I’m up at his table in the house he built while he pours me coffee he brewed. Amazing.

There just is no permanence here. I don’t know what I’m missing. But I either want it all to come together in a hurry or I’ve got to get out. I feel like I’ve been courting you, Nevada City, for two years. And I’m waiting for something to happen, a sign. A glimmer.

I have a good job, I love it in fact. And yet it is not music. I have so many wonderful blessings all around me. I just wanted to write this. A sort of plea for connection. For things to make sense somehow. I want to in writing this snap out of the hazy in between that you’ve held me in. I feel like I’m inside a washing machine, being cleansed, abused, and spun around all at once. I want to either love you or hate you, either way, to take more chances, feel more alive.

So that’s that. I don’t know why exactly I wrote this. I just felt like I needed to. Thank you for everything, thank you for last night, and how beautiful it was. I almost don’t feel like a spectator sometimes in moments like that. People are coming together. They are hopeful and alive. They are creating amazing things. And that’s how it is.

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