Blizzard of Bluesdays inundates Squaw Valley this summer

The last time Roy Rogers, a gunslinger with a double-necked guitar, played Bluesdays, the attendance record was shattered.

Bluebird skiing meets Bluesdays during an unprecedented summer of great music at Squaw Valley.

Because of the Sierra Nevada’s greatest snowpack in decades, the lifts will be in operation on the Fourth of July when Chris Cain will perform down in the Village.

This summer’s Bluesdays offers a litany of nationally known artists, including Ronnie Baker Brooks, Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings and Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers.

Tuesdays are Bluesdays in the Village at Squaw Valley.

“I know I say it every year, but it just keeps getting better,” said Caroline Ross, the executive director of the Squaw Village Neighbourhood Company. “This is hands down the best Bluesdays lineup we have ever had, plus we’ll be skiing before the Chris Cain show on July 4.”

Bluesdays began in 2009 when the economy was lagging. The organizers wanted to put on a free midweek event. It has become the area’s musical summertime staple. The free shows are from 6 to 8:30 p.m. There are food and drink vendors, along with the many restaurants and shops in the village. The Auld Dubliner features after-party bands.

Along with the Bluesdays lineup, Squaw Valley today announced who will perform at the Aug. 12-13 Brews Jazz & Funk Fest. Orgone and The Motet are the headliners. The openers will be regional favorites Jelly Bread and The Sextones.

Events are held each weekend in the Village, starting with the Made In Tahoe celebration May 27-28. Musical guests will be South Shore’s Wesley Orsolic Band, North Shore’s Peter Joseph Burtt and Truckee’s Forget The Roses, among others.

Here’s a look at the Bluesdays lineup.

Blues Monsters

The Blues Monsters open the Bluesdays season at Squaw Valley.

The Blues Monsters, June 13
Larry Yates started the Blues Monsters in the 1980. “He moved to Los Angeles and he wanted us to go with him but we said, ‘No, we’re not going to leave Lake Tahoe,’ ” said Chuck Dunn, who along with Barry Slayton, Tom Barnes and Michael Overhauser, has been the core of Tahoe’s most enduring blues band.

“Keeping a band together is really hard,” Dunn said. “It’s like a marriage or a business. But we all have the same focus and we get along. We ‘re all in our 60s now and if someone ever leaves the band we will fold. That’s how we feel about every member of this band. We’re just lucky that we all hooked up. We have something good and we’re satisfied.”

For the big shows, and there will be plenty of them this summer, the Blues Monsters will be joined by the Groove Foundry horn section, Jen Campbell, Todd Mather and Brian “Nak” Nakagawa. Slayton also plays with Groove Foundry.

Terry “The Secret Weapon” Ogg, a keyboardist, also plays with the band.

When he shows up with his B3 organ and two Leslies (speakers) it’s like a rocket ship taking off,” Dunn said.

Man the mandolins: Dragondeer does Squaw Valley this summer.

Dragondeer, June 20
Dragondeer is a psych-blues band from Denver, Colorado, whose singular, reverb drenched take on old-school blues and soul — coupled with inspired improvisation has the band making fans in roots circles as well as indie clubs across Colorado and beyond.

Dragondeer recently recorded with producer Mark Howard (Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, Anders Osborne) in California’s storied Topanga Canyon and will be releasing music from those sessions throughout 2017.

Dragondeer has shared the stage with Shakey Graves, Drive-By Truckers, Hot Buttered Rum, Anders Osborne, Jerry Joseph, Sonny Landreth, Jarekus Singleton, Leon Russell and Steel Pulse.

Roy Rogers played at Harveys last summer.

Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings, June 30
We might be blinded by blues spots in our eyes, but when they opened for Steve Miller last summer at South Shore, Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings stole the show.

The 67-year-old Nevada City resident is a slide guitar virtuoso. Rogers is a Grammy winning producer for an album he made for John Lee Hooker with contributions by some of the greatest contemporary blues artists. He had long-running collaborations with both Norton Buffalo and Ray Manzarek, and  continues to perform with Carlos Reyes.

Arrive early for this one. The last time Roy Rogers &The Delta Rhythm Kings were here, the Bluesdays attendance record was broken.

Chris Cain has played Bluesdays more than anyone.

Chris Cain, July 4
The chairlifts will be in operation for the Fourth of July when Chris Cain returns to Bluesdays. San Jose’s Cain has played here more than any other artist. He attended a B.B. King concert when he was just 3 years old and it must have made quite an impression. You can hear King’s influence in everything he plays.

“I think he should be known way more than he is now,” said fellow bluesman Dennis Jones. “He should be a household name just like Albert (King) and the rest of those guys. He’s magic, a true blues player.”

Cain studied jazz, which he taught at San Jose City College, and was a professional player before turning 18. His recording career began in 1987. He also plays piano, bass, clarinet and saxophone.

Tahoe Onstage

Grady Champion brings the Mississippi heat to Squaw Valley.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Grady Champion, July 11
As the youngest of 28 brothers and sisters, Grady Champion knows how to be competitive.

Champion became a successful and popular blues artist after learning about the music business. He co-wrote a song that received a Grammy Award, won the 2010 International Blues Challenge, has a record label and last summer released his 10th album.

After starting as a rapper, he discovered and fell in love with blues, which you might expect from someone from Canton, Mississippi. He was inspired by Rice Miller, better known as Sonny Boy Williamson II.

“To me there was only one Sonny Boy and that was Rice Miller — that’s who I studied,” Champion said. “That’s my favorite harmonica player.”

Champion’s label is DeChamp Records, which includes Blues artists JJ Thames and Eddie Cotton Jr.

He performed with Kenny Neal at last summer’s Genoa Blues Festival.

Rick Estrin is a harmonica virtuoso and clever songwriter.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, July 18

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats prowl the Village at Squaw Valley for Bluesdays on Tuesday, July 18. Hamish Anderson was originally slated to perform.

A resident of Sacramento, Estrin is a quintessentially cool bluesman who plays West Coast jump blues. He’s a harmonica virtuoso, a captivating and hilarious entertainer, and a witty songwriter.

Legendary pianist Pinetop Perkins used to break out laughing whenever he saw Estrin, quoting the chorus from one of his songs, “Dump that chump!”

“Estrin has created some of the finest blues songs of any artist on the planet,” Blues Music Magazine reported. “His carefully wrought lyrics penetrate human weakness with the precision of a boxer, though more often than not, he chooses to leave you laughing after the blow’s been struck.”

Most of this summer’s Rick Estrin and the Nightcats shows will be in Europe. In the United States, the band will play at the Chicago Blues Festival and the Las Vegas Big Blues Bender.

The Nightcats are accomplished as well.

Guitarist Kid Andersen is one of the busiest blues producers on the West Coast. At the age of 21, Andersen left Norway to join Terry Hanck’s band, landing him in California. Legend has it that his green card read, “Alien of Extraordinary Abilty.” He also played for several years with Charlie Musselwhite. Andersen replaced Little Charlie when he split with Estrin a few years ago.

Joliet, Illinois native J. Hanson has been a Nightcat since 2002. The drummer performs while standing. A singer and songwriter, Hanson previously played with jazz and swing bands, ideal for Rick Estrin and the Nightcats.

Jimmy Thackery is a guitar master.

Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers, July 25
When we last saw Jimmy Thackery at Bluesdays in 2013, he exited the stage while his beat-up 1964 Stratocaster remained on the bandstand, humming and wailing as if it was afraid its owner was going to abandon it.

Thackery has a unique guitar sound and he plays in a fuzzy style similar to Dick Dale’s surf music. His voice is a growl and his sense of humor a bit off-the-wall.

Thackery fronted a Washington, D.C. band, the Nighthawks, for 14 years. It made 20 records before splitting up in 1986, although there are reunion shows. The Drivers began in 1992. It’s hard to total all of Thackery’s albums, but it is at the least more than 40.

“He’s a master guitarist,” says Tinsley Ellis, the esteemed blues rocker from Atlanta.

Thackery lives in Belize, South America.

John Nemth at Bluesdays

John Nemeth is returning to Tahoe via Memphis.

John Nemeth, Aug. 1
John Nemeth has such a beautiful voice he doesn’t need to play the harmonica. But the true bluesman, who was first inspired by Junior Wells, says he will never put the harp away. Nemeth is nominated for the 2017 B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, which is the Blue Music Awards top honor. On May 19, Nemeth will release his first album, “Feeling Freaky,” on his own label, Memphis Grease Records.

An Idaho native, Nemeth saw his career rise while he lived in San Francisco and released a number of records on the Blind Pig label. He often played around Reno and Lake Tahoe until January 2013, when he moved to Memphis.

“The culture (of Memphis) is cool and the musical influence, whether it’s blues or not, the bands have that certain sound and feel that they all have down there.”

He did return once for a Bluesdays show in 2015. He was supported by a talented band that provided backing vocals, the Blue Dreamers.

Anthony Gomes will debut at Bluesdays this summer.

Anthony Gomes, Aug. 8
Anthony Gomes is a cerebral man and a visceral player.

He was the recipient of the University of Toronto’s C.P. Stacey Prize for highest grade point average by a history student. His master’s thesis was on racial and cultural evolution of blues music.

Onstage, Gomes is a fiery blues rocker. His 12th album “Electric Field Holler” charted No. 1 on Roots Music Report’s Blues Rock and ReverbNation’s Global Blues.

He was a sideman for Magic Slim and the Teardrops before releasing his first album in 1998. He founded the nonprofit Music is Medicine Foundation.

This will be Gomes’ Bluesdays debut. His trio includes drummer Freddy Spencer Jr. and bassist Carlton Armstrong.

Coco Montoya

Coco Montoya plays guitar left-handed and upside down.

Coco Montoya, Aug. 15
Coco Montoya began playing guitar when he was 13. Because the left-hander didn’t have an instructor teach him how to manipulate his instrument, he taught himself to play with the strings upside down.

A fan of rock and roll, he attended a show with Creedence Clearwater Revival, Iron Butterfly and a blues player he did not know: Albert King.

“It changed my life,” he told Tahoe Onstage.

Not only did King also play his instrument left-handed and upside down, the music he played moved the teenager, who has had a long, successful career as a bluesman, although he has a unique sound.

Earlier in his career, Montoya played drums with Albert Collins, who he studied onstage and at hotel rooms between shows. He later joined John Mayal and the Bluesmakers, a band that has included a long line of guitar greats, including Peter Green and Walter Trout.

Ronnie Baker Brooks is a Chicago bluesman.

Ronnie Baker Brooks, Aug. 22
As the son of the great Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks, Ronnie Baker Brooks had a unique childhood.

“I used to go over to (Buddy Guy’s) house,” he said. “I was raised with his kids because his first wife and my mom were best friends. I would see him playing and I didn’t realize that was Buddy Guy. Or hanging out with Junior (Wells) and Son Seals and Koko Taylor who used to come over to the house. I didn’t realize who they were. They were just other musicians to me. When I got older I realized this is not normal. That’s when I was like, ‘OK, now I have an obligation here to continue that legacy for my generation and the generation after me.’ ”

Ronnie Baker Brooks has a novel method to get free drinks. He solos on guitar as he walks to the bar and mixes a cocktail for himself. By the time the solo is finished, Brooks has downed the concoction and is back onstage.

Dennis Jones is back for the second straight year.

Dennis Jones Band, Aug. 29
Returning to Bluesdays for the second-straight year, the Los Angeles-based Dennis Jones Band is equally comfortable playing straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll and lowdown blues. The band’s fifth album, “Both Sides of the Tracks,” proves just that.

“It’s blues and rock, back and forth,” Jones told Tahoe Onstage before last summer’s show. “I don’t think blues band are just one thing. In Europe, you hear a variety of music in one day on one radio station. Here everything has to be cookie cutter. You have to stay within the boundaries. You can’t go outside the lines too far or it’s not traditional. But I just do what I like to do and hope people get it. I think people are way more intelligent than the record labels give them credit for.”

Mark Hummel will blow back into town.

Mark Hummel and his Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue, Sept. 5
Like the name indicates, the band is a combination of musicians from California and Texas. It is fronted by harmonica superhero Mark Hummel.

Hummel is the author of the 2012 autobiography “Big Road Blues – 12 Bars on I-80,” in which he describes the constant battle to get paid by club owners after a gig. Obviously, Squaw Valley has no problem squaring up with musicians. Hummel is second only to Chris Cain for its number of Bluesdays appearances.

The band features dual guitarists from Texas, Anson Funderburgh and the newest member Mike Keller, who formerly played with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Little Charlie Baty, who was with the band for six years, left in December.

Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue players are nominated for four Blues Music Awards, Best Band, Album, Harmonica player and Bass player, R.W. Grigsby.

  • Ninth annual Bluesdays
    6-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays
    The Village at Squaw Valley
    June 13 — Bluesdays Kickoff Party with The Blues Monsters​​
    June 20 – Dragondeer
    June 27 — Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings
    July 4 — Chris Cain (plus skiing)
    July 11 — Grady Champion
    July 18 — Rick Estrin & The Nightcats
    July 25 — Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers
    Aug. 1 — John Nemeth
    Aug. 8 — Anthony Gomes
    Aug. 15 — Coco Montoya
    Aug. 22 — Ronnie Baker Brooks
    Aug. 29 — Dennis Jones Band
    Sept. 5 — Mark Hummel’s Golden State Lone Star Revue, Mark Hummel, Anson Funderberg

    Tahoe Onstage

    Gene Evaro Jr. and bass virtuoso Piper Robison.
    Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

  • Brews Jazz & Funk 2017
    Saturday, Aug. 12
    2 p.m. – Jelly Bread
    4 p.m. – Gene Evaro Jr.
    6 p.m. – The Motet
    Second Stage:
    TBA
  • Sunday, Aug. 13
    2 p.m. – The Sextones
    4 p.m. – Royal Jelly Jive
    6 p.m. – Orgone
    Second Stage: TBA

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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