NEVADA CITY The Red Hot Chili Peppers played a hush-hush show last year in this historic Sierra foothills town. Like so many local cultural events, the show was linked to Nevada City native Jesse Locks.
Locks' friend, musician Dan Elkan, had approached her about the idea of an invitation-only Chili Peppers show with the declaration, " 'I have something really big,' " Locks said.
Elkan was asking on behalf of his friend, Josh Klinghoffer, the Chili Peppers' new guitarist. Elkan lives in Los Angeles but is from Nevada City, and knew Locks was the person to ask.
"She is the type of person who inherently knows how to make things happen," Elkan said of Locks, a classmate from kindergarten through high school. "She has made a lot of connections."
Locks, 32, is an experienced event and radio-show producer, music booker, publicist and magazine writer who currently directs the Nevada City Film Festival, which starts Thursday.
Those are her jobs. Her bigger role is as advocate for artists and her community.
Were it the 1920s, Locks might host a weekly salon. In 2012, she connects musicians and filmmakers with business contacts she met while serving on the Chamber of Commerce board. She also taps sources she made while living outside Nevada City, before moving back to town seven years ago.
"I like to see everyone around me flourish, and I am really lucky because I get to run in circles where there are really creative people involved," Locks said. "So for me to be able to share what they do with other folks and see them succeed is a huge plus."
Locks told Elkan that a secret show by one of the world's biggest bands could be pulled off. Then she helped organize the Chili Peppers show, at the Miners Foundry.
Keeping such a show on the down-low when iPhone cameras are around every corner isn't easy. But Locks has helped handle secret shows since she worked at Santa Cruz's Catalyst nightclub in college.
"She was just really relaxed about it," Elkan said by phone from Los Angeles.
Locks merges a love for the arts with logistical know-how and a graceful manner. She is enthusiastic but not excitable.
A skilled introducer, Locks is glad to meet you and certain that you really should meet other people in the room of like mind. She is constantly, casually helpful.
That quarter a reporter put in a parking meter just off Nevada City's Broad Street was unnecessary, it turns out. Locks had seen where the reporter parked and already put money in the meter.
For musicians, filmmakers and other creative types who often remain fuzzy-headed at noon, Locks is a lifeline to matters of deadlines, permits and venue access.
"The average conception of an artist is someone who has a hard time with the nuts and bolts," Elkan said. Guitarist and singer with the band Them Hills and a touring member of Broken Bells, Elkan played in a band called Pocket for Corduroy in his teens and 20s.
Locks booked Pocket for Corduroy at Northern California clubs. She helped build audiences at shows from 10 to about 300 people, Elkan said, though her cut often was minimal.
For many people who Locks helps, she takes no cut at all.
"There are very few artists I know in town who haven't in some way been helped by her," said David Nicholson, Nevada City Film Festival technical director and himself a filmmaker.
Locks' gestures are not always big. But in a town of 3,000, they all count.
"Jesse and her mother come see almost every film we have here," said Celine Negrete, manager of the Magic Theatre, a tiny art-house movie theatre in town. "And then she tells people about it. She is one of the biggest supporters of the theater and of independent film."
Film wasn't always a calling the way music has been, Locks said. But teamwork and creativity were, as was the spirit of the NCFF, which is hip, but in a self-deprecating, borderline nerdy way. (Saturday's spotlight on "Portlandia" co- creator Jonathan Krisel is a highlight of the comedy-friendly festival.)
Locks first worked with the festival on sponsorships, alongside Nicholson and festival director Jason Graham, both former high school classmates.
When Graham stepped down a few years ago, NCFF organizers "basically turned their heads to me and said, 'Here we go,' " Locks said. "I had helped in ways that maybe no one really could help in years prior, having all that event experience."
Locks lived in Santa Cruz, Sacramento, San Francisco and Seattle before returning to Nevada City. Nicholson returned to town after living in New York. Several other people with whom she grew up have returned to Nevada City after moving away, Locks said.
The childhood friends are boosting the town's arts scene together. But such familiarity among the coolest people in town has disadvantages.
"You definitely can't date someone you have known since kindergarten," Locks, who is single, said of her town's small dating pool. She has had better luck while visiting friends in other towns.
Locks grew up listening to the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, favorites of her dad, Andrew, a carpenter, and her mother, Jill, who works in a hospital. Her dad introduced her to Beat writers.
She majored in literature and journalism at UC Santa Cruz, and minored, unofficially, in rock clubs. She was so persistent in calling the Catalyst about booking Pocket for Corduroy that the club hired her to do promotions. She started with posting fliers and worked up to assistant talent buyer.
But she really wanted to write, and did, after graduation, for Sacramento music and boarding magazine Heckler and literary counterculture publication Arthur. Both stopped publishing.
When she came home in 2005, she did not intend to stay. But staff writing positions at magazines were hard to find, especially after the economy tanked.
"I kind of turned inward, and I got really involved with everything that was happening in town," Locks said. "And that happened to be events, and different nonprofit organizations."
She did publicity for local festivals and wrote a weekly column for the Union newspaper. She joined the chamber board and co-founded, with Elisa Parker, the women-centric KVMR radio show and multimedia organization See Jane Do.
Locks relishes her hometown's cultural scene and nearby swimming holes, but to make a living here, "you have to hustle, and diversify," she said.
Many people Locks' age put on rock shows and film events. Many others have returned to their hometowns in tough times. Few have made such a thorough go of it, or been as civically engaged, as Locks. Until a year ago, she served on the chamber board and two other community boards.
"Our community tends to be interested and participatory, but not at the level Jesse has been," said former Nevada City Mayor Paul Matson. Matson, 66, said his generation of townspeople, many part of the "Back to the Land" movement, are making way for Locks and her generation, known as "kids of the Back to the Landers." They are future county supervisors and City Council members, Matson said, and Locks is in the forefront.
Locks resigned from the chamber board last year after three years, and from the other two boards. Volunteer fatigue had set in, she said.
"Sometimes you volunteer thinking you have some boundaries of how much you want to be involved and you get more and more involved, and you have somehow volunteered yourself out of a job."
She's still on great terms with the organizations, she said, and her commitment to her community has not wavered.
"You only have a certain amount of time on this planet, and you've got to make the most of it," Locks said. "I constantly think in terms of legacy most people think about that when they have kids, but I don't have kids. For me, it is the idea that I have left this (world) better, and have created more opportunities."
NEVADA CITY FILM FESTIVAL
What: The 12th annual film event includes nearly 100 short and full-length films, special events and other programs.
The festival opens at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Nevada Theatre with "Neil Young Journeys," a music documentary directed by Jonathan Demme.
At 8 p.m. Saturday at the Nevada Theatre, and 4 p.m. Sunday at Miners Foundry, NCFF will present "Bones Brigade," the new skateboarding documentary by Stacy Peralta ("Dogtown and Z-Boys," "Riding Giants").
Saturday night is comedy night at Miners Foundry. A program of film shorts starts at 6 p.m. At 8 p.m., the festival will cast its "director's spotlight" on Jonathan Krisel, co-creator of the IFC show "Portlandia." At 10 p.m., Duncan Trussell, Nick Kroll and other comedians will perform in a live comedy showcase.
Where: Miners Foundry Cultural Center, 325 Spring St., and Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St., Nevada City.
Cost: $9 or $7 students and seniors. Saturday night's comedy show is $15.
Full schedule and information: www.nevadacityfilmfestival.com