Closing his eyes, it’s easy for Bob Maggiora to transport himself back to 1997 Germany.

Together with his college pals and fellow musicians, the Chico Bavarian Band culminated a whirlwind Oktoberfest tour by playing in front of 10,000 festivalgoers with a look and sound so authentic that some in the discerning audience asked—in their Bavarian dialect—which town they were from.

“They thought we were German, and we said, ‘We’re from California!’” said Maggiora (Music, ’77; Credential, ’78). “They just didn’t believe us.”

Nearly 9,000 miles from where they had gotten their musical start, members of the Chico Bavarian Band had perhaps reached their performance pinnacle. But two decades later, the 20-musician-strong ensemble remains a fan favorite at the annual Oktoberfest by the Bay in San Francisco.

The band’s musical talents have taken Maggiora—one of its founding members—to stages of all shapes and sizes. From the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds and San Francisco’s Pier 35 to the Munich Oktoberfest, he and the Chico Bavarian Band have played for hundreds of thousands of revelers over their 40-plus years together—and this is their busiest month.

With its own unique brand of music, the band blends German polkas and waltzes with American country and popular music, from “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Proud Mary” to “Johnny B Goode” and “Sweet Caroline.” The signature style is a hit with all audiences—whether they’re domestic and hoisting beer steins in appreciation, or they’re measuring the sound against a more traditional expectation.

“We’ll start with the more traditional German ‘oom-pah-pah’ music and then add some modern stuff,” Maggiora said. “People from Germany come up to us and say, ‘You do it just like they do in Munich!’ That makes us feel so good.”

The joy he feels is not dissimilar to that he experienced playing for audiences during his undergraduate years at Chico State. Arriving as a music student in fall 1971, he played clarinet and sought out every opportunity to deepen his experiences, performing for the University’s symphonic wind ensemble, jazz band, and a capella choir, as well as playing in the orchestra pit for several stage shows.

But his real transformation came on Halloween day in 1973. Knowing Maggiora also played the accordion, music faculty Daniel Hiestand handed him a book of traditional Bavarian music and asked him to get a few fellow musicians together and take children from Aymer J. Hamilton Elementary School (now a University-owned academic building of the same name) around Chico State.

Nine men stand holding their various musical instruments outside while wearing lederhosen and red and white hats.
The original members of the Chico Bavarian Club—all Chico State students—were: (back row left to right) George Vest, Byron Yerzy, Steve Dixon, Mike Eaton, and Steve McGinnis; (front row left to right) Bruce Blanchard, Robert Maggiora, Kirk Weller, and Frank Kibbish.

“He said, ‘They’ll be in their costumes, so lead them like a little parade with music. Just have fun with it,’” he recalled.

Maggiora gathered five other musicians—tuba, trumpet, clarinet, trombone, and bass drum players—and led the costumed children singing and smiling all over the campus grounds, with stops in the library and cafeteria. They made some noise and had some fun, so much fun that he had another thought. 

That Halloween night, he and his bandmates picked up their instruments and played their music once again—this time for celebratory college students at local watering holes. Each performance was a rousing success.

“We thought, ‘Holy cow, there’s something to this,’” he said.

After playing at a Pioneer Day parade, as well as another Chico Halloween night bar tour, the now official Chico Bavarian Band musicians—still Chico State students—attended Oktoberfest at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in 1975. Not necessarily planning on performing, they nonetheless brought their instruments—and Maggiora asked if the musicians could play between performances.

“They said, ‘Sure, college kids, go up and make fools of yourselves.’ We got up on stage and we kicked butt. We got the crowds going, and they were just blown away,” he said. “The following year, in 1976, was our first [official] performance at the Oktoberfest at Silver Dollar Fairgrounds.”

Just as the Chico Bavarian Band was beginning to make a name for itself, the skilled and talented musicians began graduating from Chico State—including Maggiora, who had his sights set on being a high school band director. But distance couldn’t break up the group, and its members kept performing.

Alas, state legislation dried up funding for K–12 music education in the Bay Area—meaning schools were shuttering their music programs—and he ended up having a career working in the travel industry business for American Express. Combining his interest in globetrotting with his longtime passion, he said his biggest thrill was when the Chico Bavarian Band actually made the voyage to the Munich, Oktoberfest. 

In 1987, the band, families, and friends—about 90 people total—traveled through Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany—performing at a few outdoor festivals and attending the Munich Oktoberfest. Ten years later, and with about as many travelers, the band marched and performed in the Munich Oktoberfest Sunday parade—an incredibly rare feat as the first American band to play in the iconic event.

A group of musicians play a variety of instruments on stage while dressed in traditional German clothing.
The Chico Bavarian Band made history in 1997 as the first non-European group to march and perform in the famed Munich Oktoberfest parade.

After marching in the five-mile route throughout the city, the 30-member Chico Bavarian Band performed an outdoor concert. Among its numbers was a traditional Bavarian song titled, “Drei tag geh/n ma nimma hoam.” Roughly translated: “I’m Off to the Beer Halls Honey, and I Won’t Be Back for Three Days!”

“Everyone knew the words to that song, and everyone was singing,” Maggiora said. “Their eyes lit up, and it was amazing.”

The band made a final Munich trip in 2007, marching once again in the Oktoberfest parade, before performing at another festival in Stuttgart.

While the Chico Bavarian Band now only plays at the annual Oktoberfest by the Bay—multiple performances in front of 6,000 revelers each time over a weekend—Maggiora continues to flex his musical muscles with The Internationals, a smaller, four-piece ensemble that performs throughout the year, mainly in the Bay Area.

Joking that his seven-year tenure at Chico State was probably longer than necessary, the professionally retired Maggiora continues to delight on his well-rounded education, the lessons learned, and friendships made—including meeting his wife of 38 years, Janice.

“I still look back with smiles and think of all the things that I did,” he said. “I have no regrets staying as long as I did. My classes at Chico, the people of Chico—I made some lifelong friends.”