and this is one of her writing experiments

Robot Rocket Origins

This article was originally published in the Summer 2012 issue of KDViationS, radio station KDVS’ magazine and programming guide.

As all show houses do, the Robot Rocket Residence began as a solution to a problem. There’s not enough venues, the bands are unknown, it’s too short of notice, someone cancelled, someone flaked.

During spring break of 2007, a combination of those landed prolific Utah troubadour Drew Danburry and his Chico-based tourmate Aubrey Debauchery in my living room. Sean Johannessen (DJ Mucky) had been in touch with Drew and asked me and housemate Ben Johnson (Dog Tones and eventual KDVS general manager) if we could host.

Hey, why not?

Sean sent out some emails, christening it the “Rocket Tones Residence.” Our Davis buddy Gonzalo Eyzaguirre (G2) agreed to open. We moved around some couches. It was that easy. I never dreamed I would hold a KDVS Presents show at my house, but the large patio, carpeted floor and gumdrop-colored rope lights I stole from The Aggie made it a pretty cozy setting.

First show at the Rocket Tones Residence

The room filled up for that first show, mostly with people I knew, but some people I didn’t, and that was even more exciting. There was a moment during one of Drew’s sing-alongs when I was overcome with joy: This delightfully asynchronous harmony was possible because we opened up our space, invited artists and strangers into our home.

I got such a buzz from the experience that I knew it had to continue. We held a handful more in the living room, whenever the events directors offered an orphaned lineup.

It wasn’t until July 2008 that we started the backyard shows. By then Sally Hensel (Gwendolyn) had moved in, changing the house name to “Robot Rocket” due to her involvement with Robotmedia, a now-defunct no-budget filmmakers club on campus. By then I also had enough guts and contacts to do the booking myself.

We assembled the stage out of leftover plywood and U.S. Postal Service crates filled with concrete. We propped up the KDVS billboard (which was supposed to go up along I-80, but by the time our staff finished building it, the county laws had changed). I strung up some Chinese lanterns on the fence, and (I hope) I baked a batch of cookies.

First show in the backyard as the Robot Rocket Residence

The first yard show was our friends performing for more of our friends, but over the next two summers we hosted bands from all over the state and the country. The audience grew, including more non-KDVS affiliates and people from out of town. Somehow the house became known among Davis High School parents as a safe place to send their kids, so we also accommodated a good age range.

The house developed a reputation for mellow shows, often accepting the folk and twee pop bills that Davis’ rowdier show houses pass on. People sit on the grass, blow bubbles, pet the cat. Our neighbors seemed to have no problem with the acoustic sets, and only once did one come by to ask that we quiet down.

I got to ask some of my favorite artists to play, like Dreamdate and Pangea, and I got to see many who then became some of my favorite artists, like Jordan O’Jordan and Stephen Steinbrink. In my last two and half years living there, we hosted 23 shows (including a Jonathan Richman open mic cover night, which I am especially proud of), and since then Sally and Alex Surber (Ginger Snap) have hosted 30 more.

By my semi-accurate count on our DavisWiki page, 138 bands have played this house.

But so many of the shows blend together for me now, in mixed memories of amazing voices, toy instruments, impromptu collaborations, rosemary bonfires and party snacks (homemade fudgsicles!). The experience of seeing live music fused with organizing, promoting, bugging you for donations and making new friends.

But the most gratifying thing has been seeing the Robot Rocket Residence passed on to newer DJs. It has become a part of this West Coast DIY tour circuit, a rich tradition of presenting all-ages, intimate live music no matter what obstacles exist.

And that’s how a solution to a problem evolved into a KDVS landmark, an established venue and some of my most glorious Davis summer nights.

My Top 5 RRR Show Moments

1) Dancing on the roof while The Wild Kindness played “Party on the Roof”

2) Sally’s chickens making a cameo stage appearance during a Dreamdate set

3) Stephen Steinbrink taking a phone call from his dad in the middle of a song, having his dad say hi into the mic, telling his dad he loves him

4) Riding on top of the KDVS billboard as a dozen volunteers marched it a few blocks to the Goondocks house after Calvin Johnson played my going-away party

5) Next-door neighbor peaking over the fence right behind the performer to see what was going on, looking like Wilson from “Home Improvement”

A Good Pillow