Brent Harding books ’em at Crystal Bay, Squaw Valley
Brent Harding has one of the dreamiest jobs in Lake Tahoe.
Every live-music lover has sat around and day dreamed about all the bands they’d love to see come to their city or town. If they had the pick of the litter, who would they like to see? It’s intoxicating just thinking about that kind of power, what a wonderful proposition. But for most, it is and always will be a fantasy that is dreamed and visited but never lived.
Not for Harding. The Mississippi native is the founder of Devildog Productions and books a healthy dose of the biggest concerts in the Tahoe/Reno area, putting together shows for the Crystal Bay Casino, MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa, Cargo Concert Hall at Whitney Peak Hotel in Reno, Bluesdays at Squaw Village and Brews, Jazz and Funk Festival, also in Squaw Valley.
If you did the math, there probably are one or two concerts a week in the area that Harding brought. When you factor in how much the shows add to the nightlife culture, the amount of money they bring in and how much joy the music can give to people, Harding wields a great deal of power.
With great power comes great responsibility. If there is anyone suited for that type of responsibility, it is Harding. He was born into the sounds of the night, raised by them, with his father running music clubs since he was young. He knows the ins and outs of the business more than most, almost a family trade that has been passed down into his capable hands.
“My father was in the business, he ran booth clubs for 35 years. I kinda grew up around a lot of musicians. He was friends with Ike Turner, Isaac Hayes and Rufus Thomas and people like that, so I was always around it. I was real comfortable around the business and musicians and then decided one day that is what I wanted to do,” Harding said
Like many, Harding came to Tahoe with no real intentions of staying. He thought it was going to be a nice little spot outside San Francisco to occasionally set up shop. But 14 years later, it’s his main site of operations, a solid base rooted in the relationship he sparked with Crystal Bay Casino manager Bill Wood.
“My first show in Tahoe was Derek Trucks at the old Sierra Vista Restaurant. Bill Wood was a big Allman Brothers fan at the time and was impressed by that show and pulled me over to Crystal Bay. They wanted to start getting serious and that’s where it all started,” Harding said.
“The guy has an uncanny ability to foresee who is about to break out, a great network of contacts, and above all integrity,” Wood said.
Bringing your favorite artists to town certainly is a dream for most and despite Harding being closer than just about anyone to the action, it seems it’s one for him, as well. The reality of the job is that dreams and wishes don’t fuel the music industry, it’s money.
“It’s never about what I want to see, it’s all about what the people in the market want to see, which is told to me by a prior history of shows they go out for and what I see in ticket sales. Other mountain markets have similar genres. For instance, Colorado has a lot of bluegrass and that’s where a lot of ours comes from. Boulder is a good comparison to Tahoe, not as far as mountain town but as far as musical interests. Tahoe’s identity is bluegrass, roots, a little bit of reggae, New Orleans funk. They like to party and they like to dance, so upbeat music is always better,” Harding said.
While most of Harding’s shows are in the Tahoe area, he also books bands at Cargo at Whitney Peak, one of Reno’s leading concert venues. As Harding puts it, Reno is a whole other side of the spectrum musically, despite just being just over a mountain pass.
“Reno might as well be a 1,000 miles from Tahoe. Bluegrass traverses a little bit into both markets but Reno is more into country, for sure, and Americana, singer-songwriter. I tend to stay in that, and a little bit of hip-hop. I’d say Reno’s identity is definitely EDM music, which I don’t do a whole lot of. I let Steve Emmerich and Paul Reder and those guys take that. EDM first, a close second is country,” Harding said.[pullquote]Alabama Shakes would be a big fish. Gary Clark Jr. would be cool. We had him as a free show in the Crown Room when he was coming up. We’ll have to get him back.”[/pullquote]
The booking agent has a had a very successful 14 years in the region, with plenty of legends brought in, from Dr. John and George Clinton, to the next generation of legends such as Derek Trucks and Gary Clark Jr. There are many shows to choose from but a couple of them bubbled to the top when asked to name some of his more prouder moments.
“The first year, we did the Snowlive shows, where Soulive does three nights with special guests like Anders Osborne and Matisyahu. It was the first time we had done anything like that at Crystal Bay. There were a lot of moving parts to that one and it was really difficult to put together. All said and done, I was really proud of it. I thought it was one of the best musical things we had put together. … And the (three) String Cheese Incident shows, that was the biggest score we ever had, that will go down in the books,” Harding said.
New Year’s always brings out some of the best musical events of the year and Harding provided a super memorable one in 2017 that left a mark on fans and musicians alike.
“I was really proud of New Year’s Eves show with North Mississippi Allstars, Marc Broussard and John Medeski. I kind of put that together, and it was my idea. Some of the guys after the show said that was some of the best times they’ve had playing in a long time. So I felt proud that I was on the same wavelength of what sounded good to them,” Harding said.
The shows always will come and go, and the realities of being an agent present themselves every week. For Harding, it’s right where’s he comfortable, straddling the needs and wants of music venues and music artists. But even a veteran such as Harding still gets lost in his own daydreams about his bucket list of bands, big fish still swimming around the ocean.
“Alabama Shakes would be a big fish. Gary Clark Jr. would be cool. We had him as a free show in the Crown Room when he was coming up. We’ll have to get him back,” Harding said.