Music Enthusiast and Promoter Don Dibono
By Melissa Mendonca
Big Time Music
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Main Image: Photo courtesy of Billy DiBono
Photos by Sunshine Rush
DON DIBONO has an office where one would hope to linger. Decades of concert promotion posters and photos line the walls, many with names that elicit awe. Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Creedence Clearwater Revisted mix in with many other great acts.
“People come to my office and see all the pictures on my wall and ask me where I was when I did all these shows,” he says. The answer is most often Chico or Oroville at either Cabos, a Chico institution from 1976-1985, or most recently, Feather Falls Casino.
Now 71 years old, DiBono says it all started for him where careers in music often start: a garage. “I always had the bands in my garage. I always had the parties,” he says with a laugh. “And then the Beatles hit and I was a junior in high school and it was instant. To this day, I still have Beatles mania and I love them more now than I did then. I can be driving down the street and a Beatles song will play and I’ll shed a tear.” DiBono had front row seats to the band’s final concert.
While he’ll also admit shedding a tear after most of the shows he’s produced, it’s also pretty clear the party has never really stopped for DiBono. He arrived from the Bay Area as a young man to attend Chico State University and says, “I must say, I heard it was a party school and that was alright with me.”
Pretty soon he was hanging concert posters and doing event security and barbecues for a fraternity brother who was head of concerts on campus. “That started moving me in that direction,” he says of his beginnings in concert promotions. “Then my friends took over a bar called the Drop In Club. They ran the bar and I put in a restaurant there. Then the owner asked if I’d take over the bar. So I took over and started bringing in music.”
That restaurant turned to Cabos, where Robert Cray was the house band, and the Doobie Brothers and Dana Carvey touched down for shows. “It’s an institution in this town,” he says, “especially in the music world.”
“To be a success, you have to feel it inside,” DiBono says, likening music promotion to being a gambler. “You’re gambling on how many people will show up.” He also notes that his success also has to do with attention to detail and not cutting corners.
But the life of a gambler also has its moments of euphoria. Then there would be the happy tears again. “Back in the day I would cry at the end of just about every show. I was so happy making people happy.”
After selling Cabos, DiBono founded Entertainment Services in 1990 and focused on concert promotion. “What really changed for me was a call from Feather Falls Casino in Oroville,” he says. DiBono began booking shows for the venue and started the Blues Fest there.
He also booked at venues as diverse as the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds and the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, where he promoted Weird Al Yankovic. He happened to book Waylon Jennings on the singer’s birthday and got to watch his wife, Jessi Colter, walk out on stage to surprise him at the fairgrounds.
Later, he booked Willie Nelson on what turned out to be the day of Jennings’ death. “He said he was going to do the best show ever,” DiBono says of Nelson. “We got calls from all over the world wanting to know what Willie had to say. He wrote out a note. That night, when the show ended – and it was sold out – he sat down on the front of the stage and took pictures and signed autographs for everyone that was there. Then he sang an extra song.”
These days, DiBono is focusing on promoting his son Billy’s band, Decades, which has a wide ranging audience and plays 135 shows a year. “We can play an Elks Club or we can play a college night club and get the same reaction,” he says. “They all love it.” As it happens, Decades is drawing DiBono full circle. “They rehearse in my garage,” he says.
“I always figured that Cabos would be the biggest thing that I did,” says DiBono. “People would come to play San Francisco then the next night come to play Chico. Now, with my son’s band, I’m hoping it surpasses Cabos.”
In reflecting on his life, he refers to a friend who recently told him, “Don, you have the best job in the world. You get to make people happy every day.” He didn’t disagree. “I had jazz, I had everything. Now that I look back on the posters, I don’t know how I did it.”•