As we look back on 2018, staff members and correspondents at Tahoe Onstage select their favorite concerts and explain why. They had a lot to choose from, as the online music publication covered more than 100 shows, providing previews and reviews alike.
It was a banner year for Tahoe Onstage, as well, as we wrap up our fifth year and look forward to another birthday in March. Page views in 2018 are approaching the quarter-million mark, a record. We thank our readers for that and invite them to reminisce about their favorite shows. Here’s our list:
Mike Wolcott: Robert Plant
I’ve seen McCartney, and Ringo, and the Stones, and the Who a combined total of 14 times. The one group missing on my list of “Biggest Bands in the World” was Led Zeppelin, and if Robert Plant’s concert June 23 was as close as I’ll ever come, I’ll check into Rock and Roll Heaven with a satisfied mind. He sang only 12 songs — word came later that the altitude was getting to him — but more than half of them were right out of classic Zep catalog, and man, did he ever sound good.
When you look back at any concert several months later, there’s always one song that stands out in your mind, and for me, it was “Going to California.” It was very fitting for my wife Sherrie and me, because we were literally going to California on the last day of a 24-day road trip to Florida and back when we stopped off for the Plant show. He was the encore of a mighty amazing journey that, like the short concert, left us wanting more of the same.
Kurt Johnson: Chris Stapleton
I would have to say that my favorite show of the year to photograph would be Chris Stapleton at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys. If I could have shot just one concert for the year, that would have been it. No super big light show or pyrotechnics. Just stage lights, smoke and great rockin’ country blues.
Shaun Astor: Florence and The Machine
Reflecting over the past 12 months, it’s a bit unexpected that Florence and The Machine’s show at Harvey’s in early September would be my favorite show. It was a combination of the autumn evening that saw a full amphitheater, along with plenty of people parked off of the surrounding streets, tailgating and listening to the music echoing through the Tahoe air that made the excitement for her performance palpable.
The first show of a worldwide tour for her “High As Hope” album, she opened with the first-ever live performance of the song “June,” and the transcendental energy that Florence Welch is known for grew from there. Florence Welch asked fans to put their phones away, hold hands with friends and strangers alike and jump along to her songs. Songs such as “Ship To Wreck” and “Cosmic Love” have an emotional resonance in the listener. Florence’s voice gave me chills, and the performance that followed held that level of engagement through the end.
Garrett Bethmann: Phish
There were a lot of great shows in Lake Tahoe and Reno this year, but nothing could quite match the pageantry that was Phish’s summer tour opener at Harvey’s Outdoor Arena. Phans from across the nation filled up the arena, with millions more tuning in from webcasts and following the setlist online. With all that attention, the event had the feeling of being at the center of the universe. With great hype comes great responsibility and Phish put on a standout opener that featured a transcendental “Moma Dance” and “Ghost” pairing, super-jammed out “No Men In No Man’s Land” and an elegantly enlightening “Harry Hood” closer. It was a great way to start summer and a highlight of the year.
Shuan Astor’s Best festival: Envision Gathering
Having attended nearly a dozen festivals this past year, the one that sticks out does so less for the performers and far more for the environment. Costa Rica’s Envision Gathering, which takes place on the country’s Pacific Coast each February, is more about the experience and the collective radiance than it is about headline artists. Often, large gaps of time would pass where your attention would not even move to the stage, as the DJs were simply providing the music for dancing from dark until tropical dawn.
The utter overstimulation of multiple stages with musicians, dancers, fire-spinners, art projections, live visual artists, and all types of people melting the line between performer and attendee composed the festival’s backdrop, and at any point you could leave the alternative world and walk a short distance to the tropical coastline, where plenty of others could constantly be found sharing drinks and coconuts.
Envision occurs annually in Costa Rica. However, Florida’s Suwannee Hulaween captures a lot of those same feelings in a place a little bit closer to home. Musically, Sacramento’s Sol Blume Festival stuck out for mixing a well-selected collection of performers, headlined by Jhene Aiko, in a uniquely intimate setting in a park in downtown Sacramento.
Mike Smyth: Scorpions
I’d have to say the Scorpions, with honorable mention to Billy Strings at Hangtown. I’d last seen Scorpions almost 36 years to the day. On Rudolf Schenker’s 70th birthday they were tight, fresh, energetic, smiling pros that we’re healthier looking today than way back when at Day On The Green. They covered all the hits, with a great light and video rig, and as I walked out backstage during the encore I couldn’t believe how loud the crowd was singing the choruses of “Someone Like You” and “Rock You Like A Hurricane.”
I had been kind of unimpressed for whatever reason with Billy Strings at Winter Wondergrass and High Sierra. The Hangtown set changed all that with some incredible guitar work with his band and with Jon Stickley (Jon Stickley Trio) joining for the last few songs of a speed-picking firestorm.
Simon Ruvalcaba: Ice Cube
Having grown in the hip-hop era and being inspired by artists who came from nowhere to the national and world stage, I felt nostalgic at the Ice Cube concert at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Lake Tahoe. The show — and the people I ran into that night — opened the memory floodgates of my youth. To see an artist who has become successful beyond music is more than inspiring. As time goes on in any life, only a handful of evenings make you feel young again. This was one of them!
Larry Sabo: Beth Hart
My favorite show of 2018 has to be Beth Hart, as her shear emotion and raw talent are intimately expressed in her performances. She was a way of touching the crowd emotionally while comfortably walking right into them during her performance. The variety of her natural ability goes from a hard rocking diva to a delicate jazz pianist to a soulful blues singer. This woman is jam packed with entertainment that appears to want to all come out of her at once. It’s quite an event to see and experience.
Pheonix Gruneich: Hirie
A fun year for the Tahoe Onstage team. Besides my favorite festival that I work, Mountain Vibe, my favorite show for was Hirie in February at Crystal Bay. They did it right around my birthday –yay me! I loved this show because the setting was so intimate. All the bands delivered a good performance and to see the bands hang out with the fans after the show is just wonderful. They all took pics and signed merch. I saw Hirie open for Rebelution in Tahoe and it was nice to see them on their own tour. Definitely my choice for favorite and I hope they come back through Tahoe again.
Tim Parsons: David Bromberg
David Bromberg is famous for his onstage storytelling, improvisational humor and wit. But before he played his final song at his first show at Lake Tahoe (Crystal Bay Casino), there was no introduction. He and his band simply performed an exquisite rendition of “Mr. Bojangles,” a song he recorded with Jerry Jeff Walker in 1968. I will never forget it.
Tony Contini: Buddy Guy
It was hard to pick a favorite concert after a year of such amazing music. From California festivals to Off Beat here at home, from huge event centers to the amazing intimacy of Pignic, the music I’ve heard has been a blessing. If I were to pick a single show that moved me most, it has to be Buddy Guy at Silver Legacy. For its size, that room has an close-knit vibe. Everyone is there experiencing the music together. If you shout just a touch above your speaking voice, a living legend can hear you. Guy floored me with his skill, had me cracking up with his banter and warmed my heart with his smile. It’s an evening I will never forget.
Nick McCabe: Beach Boys
Picking my favorite show of 2018 that I reviewed for Tahoe Onstage is (almost) like picking out my favorite child or pet, but not really. Nobody will get their feelings hurt on this one. From a pure fun and enjoyment prospective I would have to say the Beach Boys at Silver Legacy takes the prize. Even though I never owned a Beach Boys album or really followed them closely, I had a great time at their show. Their music is like a background track for the period of my life when I was moving from childhood to adulthood, as it was for most of the crowd that night. Being in the middle of a crowd that was that joyful and enthusiastic was infectious. It was like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold winter night, only you were bouncing up and down. Their final song of the night was the perfect choice: “Fun Fun Fun.”
Josh Sweigert: Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen
As always across the Reno-Tahoe region, 2018 was a fantastic year for live entertainment. It is invariably a challenge to choose one’s favorite show out of so many talented acts and memorable performances, but for this writer it was quite clearly “An Evening with Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen” at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. The sheer songwriting artistry on display between the two of them, and the chance to hear any number of my favorite tunes (many of which I play live and with friends and family) made for an unforgettable night.
Moreover, the deep well of shared experience between the two Texas songwriters, bosom friends since meeting and playing together regularly in their college years, adds a legitimately unique layer to what would already be a fantastic show. Finally, the stripped-down aesthetic, with just the two men on stools onstage swapping songs, stories and anecdotes, was a breath of fresh air from the traditional concert setting.
Conrad Buedel: Trey Stone Benefit concert
I selected the Trey Stone Benefit Concert on Nov. 14 as my favorite concert in 2018. There were many great shows this year to choose from, but this night was different. It was a community that came together to show its love and support for a friend in need. More than 400 locals overflowed the Vinyl showroom at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in honor of Trey Stone.
Every music lover on South Shore was in attendance, along with dozens of musicians. Everyone wanted to pay tribute to a longtime music icon of Lake Tahoe. Carolyn Dolan was busy with her clipboard shuffling 10 bands on and off the stage during more than four hours of excellent music. When Trey strapped on his guitar and started playing, you could truly feel the love in the room. It was an amazing night that demonstrated the best human emotions and great tunes.
Clare Foster: Bob Weir and Wolf Brothers
There was so much amazing music in 2018, that it is very difficult to pick just one show, just one photograph. In thinking long and hard about this, and looking at photos from this past year, I am probably going to have to pick Bob Weir and Wolf Bros., and not because it was necessarily the best show but because it took me back to the 1970s when I first saw Bob Weir. It also had me very much in the present listening to and photographing Bob, Jay Lane and Don Was all having a great time onstage and doing what they love, which they do it so well. Music is timeless, music is medicine, music is the place — when all else fails that fills hearts and souls, mends broken spirits, and is very much universal. Without live music, life is just meh.
Here’s to 2019!