Almost every table is occupied in Linnaea’s Cafe. College students skirt responsibilities to turn through pages of leisure novels they weren’t assigned in class. An elderly man peruses the wall, which overflows with new art for sale. Vegan options by the cashier run dangerously low as the whole coffee shop basks in lively Spanish guitar. It’s a perfect Thursday afternoon.
In the center of the room, Bryson Bailey sits at a little table across from a copy of the Los Angeles Times.
Bailey usually has locks of hair that would give Fast Times At Ridgemont High-era Sean Penn a run for his money. Today, his head is clean-cut; even so, between his Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops, it’s easy to see he’s the most easy-going guy in the room.
The 26-year-old first arrived in San Luis Obispo as a Cal Poly freshman in 2006, armed with high school jazz band prowess and aspirations of a kinesiology degree. The degree and nine years came and went, during which Bailey adopted the role of lead guitarist and vocalist for soul-folk band Proxima Parada.
That time is now coming to an end. Bailey stops for a moment, recalling how he broke the news to his bandmates.
“I remember we had a meeting, and at that time I said, ‘Look, I’ve got to go to Denver.’”
The decision hasn’t come easily. A significant portion of his life has been in San Luis Obispo, where he’s a founding member of a band that makes up an integral part of the local music scene. But Bailey had to start looking forward. His girlfriend Gennarina is off to medical school, and he’s got similar aspirations in mind. Come July 8, he’ll be in Colorado.
“As much as I love the community here — as much as I would love playing for Proxima Parada here in San Luis Obispo — there were so many things in that equation that were pushing me to make this decision,” he said. “Sometimes in life you come to a crossroads, where you have to make a really difficult decision. It wasn’t easy for me to make, but it felt like the right one.”
Through college, Bailey played music. Come junior year, previously lonesome acoustic sessions evolved into live rock ‘n’ roll. He came into the local house show scene, where he played with friends under monikers such as After the Apple, Jungle Kids and Wilson Estate. The experience introduced him to four-piece rock music that wasn’t available in primary school blues and jazz bands, and certainly played an influential role down the line.
He traces Proxima Parada back to a 2011 echocardiogram class, where Bailey met fellow musician and kinesiology senior Nick Larson. A mutual interest in music turned into a jam session. That first experience reverberates to this day.
“We kind of built the essence of ‘Porch Stompin,’ that song we wrote that’s one of our oldest,” Bailey said. “I was on the mandolin, he was on the guitar. We were kind of stomping our feet. I just said, ‘Good little porch stompin’.’”
The song, a sunshiny folk tune that’s hard not to smile at, is featured on both of Proxima Parada’s releases.
Bailey graduated from Cal Poly with a job offer from LinkedIn but instead invested in his music.
“I was going to start working at LinkedIn at that time and work their corporate wellness program,” he said. “I gave that up because I wanted a break from school and play music — to decide what I wanted to do.”
The duo of porch-stompers evolved into a four-piece outfit. Andy Olson appended percussion and Kevin Middlekauff brought bass and mandolin. Between the four were some college degrees, some instruments and no plans — but there was always music, always a show.
In 2013, the band began to find more instruments and some momentum.
“At that point we kind of took a next step of seriousness and said, ‘Okay, let’s give this a shot,’” Bailey said, lighting up. “We had an EP — something to show for it. We only get one time in our life to get to do this.”
A year later, they released their first album, Songs of Music. A fanbase, collection of recorded music and instrumental skill culminated all at once.
Despite the success, things were not all OK with Bailey. As Proxima Parada began its upward swing, Bailey’s mother was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. Bailey couldn’t consider leaving. He needed to stay close to his hometown of Morgan Hill, a few hours north — his mother’s home.
“This was a difficult time for me, too,” Bailey said. “This is one of our pinnacles of music as well as, like, I’m going through one of the most difficult things in my entire life. In some ways it was really helpful to have music there. In other ways it was difficult because I was so distracted all the time by this reality at home.”
Through all the pain and complication, Gennarina was there.
“Someone I’m extremely grateful for having in my life to help deal with that situation is my girlfriend,” he said. “She was there when I was going through some really difficult times in my life. I had her to talk to.”
Bailey’s mother died Aug. 22, 2014.
While Gennarina supported Bailey through that pain, he supported her while she chased her dream of attending medical school. In November, she was accepted to Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“I’ve known for the past year and a half more so that this is a relationship that’s very important to me,” he said. “I want to stay with this. It seems right. You look at pathways in your life, which way are you going to go? I know I want to go wherever she’s going.”
Meanwhile, Proxima Parada’s momentum continued to increase — so Bailey asked the band what they thought of the Rockies.
“It’s one of those situations where I saw early on that moving to Denver for at least a couple of the band members is not their ideal situation,” he said. “I don’t blame them for that.”
The last thing Bailey wanted was to remove the ones he loved from their homes and families to accommodate him. At the same time, he saw the great opportunities a new city and a fresh start could provide.
Proxima Parada, on the other hand, isn’t going anywhere.
Nick Larson and Kevin Middlekauff live in a charming light blue house on Pacific Street, a pebble’s toss from downtown. Indoor furniture sits on the front porch, a wreath hangs off the railing. Up the wooden stairs, some cardboard boxes and a Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots game guard the screen door. Larson, Middlekauff and Olson sit at a wooden kitchen table while the post-gig Sunday afternoon fades. Larson’s smile is infectious, even amid a touchy subject such as Bailey moving away.
“Now it’s so close to happening I feel like we’re all just trying to milk that last couple days,” Larson said. His grin glowed in the dimming room. “He’s not dying. He’s just moving to Denver. That makes me feel hopeful.”
“We’re not, like, cutting ties with him,” Middlekauff added.
Proxima Parada is losing a founder, lead guitarist, vocalist and songwriter all at once. Yet the band members express only understanding, empathy and support. All that remains are the melancholy smiles of missing an old friend.
“I’m definitely bummed he’s leaving, but I think it’s good for him,” Olson offered. “I think he’s just realized it’s the right thing for him to do and that’s awesome. We’re all supportive of that, and we’re going to miss him.”
Meanwhile, the three who remain are hard at work. A new self-titled EP is on its way, a send-off of sorts for Bailey.
“We had a lot of songs we hadn’t recorded yet,” Olson said. “With Bryson moving, we’re like, ‘Well, let’s record these so we can save these.’”
“As nostalgic keepsakes,” Larson added.
“We love these songs, let’s put them down on something,” Olson said.
As the conversation shifts to the future, the musicians’ voices lift. Larson, Middlekauff and Olson are in it for the long run — but they’re in no rush to replace their friend.
The last two shows featuring Bailey will take place on June 12 at SLO Brewing Co., where the band will give out free copies of its upcoming release. The final show will be part of San Luis Obispo’s Concerts In The Plaza series on June 26.