A decade of the blues keeps music lovers smiling at Squaw Valley.
The lineup for the 10th season of Bluesdays is spectacular. The free shows in The Village are held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays from June 12-Sept. 4.
“We are thrilled to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Bluesdays concert series and appreciate those who come out each and every week to enjoy some incredible blues and patronize our businesses,” said Caroline Ross, the executive director of the Squaw Village Neighbourhood Company.
At Squaw Valley, blues is the Devildog’s music.
“I feel like this will be one of our best years yet,” said Brent Harding, who books the shows through Devildog Productions. “Aside from our usual list of legends, I am particularly excited about new additions Ron Artis II and my old friend from the Hill Country, The Cedric Burnside Project.”
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. There are food and drink vendors, along with the many restaurants and shops in the village. The Auld Dubliner features after-party bands.
Here is a look at this year’s lineup:
June 12 – The Blues Monsters
The Blues Monsters open the weekly Bluesdays summertime series for the fifth consecutive year. The only local band on the lineup, the Blues Monsters formed 27 years ago.
“It’s a premier gig,” guitarist-singer Chuck Dunn told Tahoe Onstage. “There’s a lot of bands that would love to be able play it. We definitely feel very honored that they ask us to do it and so we always try and pull out all the stops and bring in the best we can.”
The rockin’ blues quartet — Dunn, Tom Barnes, Barry Slayton and Michael Overhauser — will add the three-member Groove Foundry horn section – Jen Campbell, Brian “Nak” Nakagawa and Todd Mather – for a nonstop set from 6 to 8:30 p.m. South Shore keyboardist Terry “The Secret Weapon” Ogg also will join the jam.
June 19 – Nick Schnebelen Band
The only reason Schnebelen is not a household name is because it’s difficult to pronounce.
Before starting his own band, Kansas City blues guitarist Nick Schnebelen played with his family band, Trampled Under Foot, the 2008 winners of the International Blues Challenge. Schnebelen also won the Albert King Award at the IBC for best guitarist. Trampled Under Foot won the 2014 Blues Music Awards for Best Band and Best Album.
Schnebelen plays in a trio with Cliff Moore who played bass with Michael Burks and drummer Adam Hagerman, who has played with the Hadden Sayers Band, as well as Junior Watson and Big Bill Morganfield. The Nick Schnebelen Band played at last summer’s Hogs For The Cause event at Crystal Bay Casino and as an artist-at-large at the Big Blues Bender in Las Vegas.
Nick’s sister, Danielle Nicole, is doing alright on her own as well. Her second solo album released in February debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart.
June 26 – Mark Hummel’s Golden State/Lone Star Revue
The streak continues. Harmonica star Mark Hummel will return to Bluesdays for the seventh-straight year.
For Hummel, the trip to Squaw Valley from his Castro Valley home is like a jaunt to the store. He’s logged nearly 2 million miles in his tour van since his career began in the early 1970s.
Blues purists appreciate Hummel’s straight-ahead blues style. He’s presented Harmonica Blues Blowouts with all star players for decades, has released dozens of albums and in 2012 published a book, “Big Road Blues: 12 Bars On I-80.”
Charlie Musselwhite and Tommy Castro, he said, are perhaps the only other bluesmen who have put in as many miles on the road as himself.
The Golden State /Lone Star Revue is comprised of musicians from California and Texas. Esteemed guitarist Anson Funderburg recently was treated for an injury and his status is unknown for the Bluesdays appearance. Hummel, bassist R.W. Grigsby and the band had four Blues Music Award nominations in 2017.
July 3 – Curtis Salgado
Here’s something truly paradoxical about a Portland blues artist: Curtis Salgado is one of the most soulful, passionate and award-winning singers alive, and his greatest hit in years is a love song to a dog.
“I Want My Dog To Live Longer (The Greatest Wish)” is getting radio play all across the nation. Anyone who has outlived their canine companion can related to the tune, part of the new album, “Rough Cut,” recorded by Salgado and his longtime guitarist Alan Hagar. The record has been near the top of the charts for weeks and is a stripped-down contrast to Salgado’s more crooning albums from recent years.
Salgado was the inspiration for John Belushi and “The Blues Brothers.” The actor was in Eugene, Oregon, making the movie “Animal House” when he saw Salgado perform. He created the character Joliet Jake Blues based on Salgado’s onstage persona.
2016 was a singular year for Salgado. He survived emergency quadruple bypass surgery and two months later swept the Blues Music Awards with honors, including his fourth for Soul Blues Artist of the Year.”
This year, he has been nominated for Soul Male Artist. In 2019, he and Hager are almost certain to be nominated for Traditional Blues Album.
July 10 – Debbie Davies
It took a decade, but Debbie Davies is coming to the Bluesdays bandstand.
A touring blueswoman for more than 30 years, the virtuoso guitarist and passionate singer has 13 solo albums.
If Davies’ tone is reminiscent of Albert Collins,’ there’s a good reason. She played in his band the Icebreakers from 1988-91.
“It was like a dream come true,” Davies said. “Albert happened to be going through some band changes in his lineup and I got the call.”I opened the shows. We would do a real uptempo instrumental then I would sing one then do this big bruhaha thing and then bring him out. If he broke a string, he would give me the lead. It was a real blues jam band.”
The Debbie Davies appearance could be the highlight of a Bluesdays summer that has never been better.
July 17 – Ron Artis II & The Truth
Of all the great Bluesdays guitarists this summer, Ron Artis could be the fastest. Blues is just part of the mix that Ron Artis II & The Truth brings to the bandstand. There’s also soul, folk and gospel. But when he wants to, Artis can accelerate to Jimi Hendrix mode.
He plays in a trio with his younger brother Stevon on drums and Riley Pa’Akaula bass. Ron and Stevon are among 11 children who all grew up to become musicians or artists. They are from Oahu. For a time, the children played in their parents family band.
“Anybody who’s got a family knows that it is easy to get in arguments with your brothers, but we have a healthy relationship,” Artis said. “We know how different we are and we come together for a common goal, and that common goal is to really bring a lot of positive music into this world.”
Artis this summer will make his second consecutive appearance at the Wanderlust Festival. Ron Artis II & The Truth opened for G. Love & Special Sauce on March 29 at the Crystal Bay Casino.
July 24– Albert Castiglia
Albert Castiglia lived a blues guitarist’s dream on New Year’s Eve 1996.
He was invited to play in Del Ray, Fla., on the same stage as Junior Wells, the Chicago harmonica player who recorded with Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. After playing with Wells’ group for two opening songs, the diminutive yet larger-than-life bandleader came onstage. Castiglia played three songs alongside Wells.
“It was the most amazing night of my life at the time,” Castiglia said. “I remember running up the street after I jammed with them and calling my parents. They were excited for me, although they didn’t know who he was.”
The excitement was just beginning.
Two months later, Wells needed a fill-in guitarist and he called Castiglia, who joined the band for a tour through Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit. The south Florida native didn’t mind it was freezing in February.
Another month later Castiglia answered another call: “Can you be in Chicago in three days to take the job full time?”
“Yeah, sure. No problem.”
Twenty years later, Castiglia is an internationally acclaimed band leader. A resident of Florida, he has only made one previous Bluesdays appearance in 2013. He released his seventh album, “Up All Night,” last fall with producer Mike Zito.
July 31 – Joe Louis Walker
The Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis displays the likeness of a litany of legends who are no longer living. One of those busts, however, is of Joe Louis Walker, who is still very much alive and fighting for the blues.
Walker appreciates his fellow inductees and wants to emulate Muddy Waters’ philosophy about supporting other players.
“Every night we play, we try to do an homage to what I like to call the originators,” Walker said.
“It all continues. You go from Son House to Muddy Waters — who is the real truth in my estimation — when it comes to taking the mantle that Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Boy (Williamson) No. 1 gave him. It was a brilliant thing, accepting everybody … from Johnny Winter to Mick (Jagger) to Joe Louis Walker to Robert Cray to you name it. He was always encouraging and always down to earth.
In 2016, Walker became the first Hall of Fame member to perform at Squaw Valley’s Bluesdays, a weekly summertime tradition. He was joined by keyboardist Travis Reed, drummer Byron Cage and bassist Lenny Bradford.
Walker has been prolific in the studio since his recording career began in 1986. Since 2002, he’s released 12 albums, which vary in styles that range from electric Chicago blues, acoustic, rock, gospel and Christian blues.
Aug. 7 – Kenny Neal
How did Kenny Neal get to be the band leader? He was born first.
Kenny Neal and the Family Band is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. All 10 Neal siblings grew up to be professional musicians, and Kenny is the eldest. He was backed by his brothers on Bluesdays show of the summer in 2016.
Kenny Neal plays guitar, harmonica and sings. Frederick plays keys, Graylon plays drums and Darnell is the bassist.
“It’s good to keep it in the family and also we get along and love each other,” Neal told Tahoe Onstage. “I can’t fire them and they can’t quit.
“I am always asked how do we stay together. We’ve got to answer to our mom. We never need a manager. If something’s not right, she can get it all straightened out quick.”
Aug. 14 – Chris Cain
San Jose’s Cain has played Bluesdays more than any other artist. Chairlifts were open for skiers on the Fourth of July during his 2017 appearance.
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.
Aug. 21– Terry Hanck
A saxophone superstar with a bent for vintage rock and roll, Terry Hanck is a beloved Bluesdays headliner. He lives in Florida, but spends most of summers in California, where he built a fan base from 1977-87 when he was in Elvin Bishop’s band during its heyday of hit songs.
Hanck won the Blues Music Award for Instrumentalist, Horn, in 2017, 2016 and 2012.
Hanck’s blues-based sound is flavored with early rock and roll — when the saxophone, and not guitar, was the featured instrument. A Chicago native, Hanck was inspired by the blues at a 1962 B.B. King concert.
Hanck’s West Coast band is top shelf. Johnny Soubrand plays a Fender Telecaster guitar, Butch Cousins plays drums and the bassist is Tim Wagar.
Aug. 28 – Coco Montoya
One of the most respected artists in blues, Coco Montoya will appear at Squaw Valley for the second-straight summer.
Montoya is a graduate of the school of Albert.
Montoya plays guitar like Albert King, left-handed and upside down, but his tone sounds like Albert Collins. Montoya played drums and toured with Collins for nearly five years going broke leaving the music profession for a while. “I was quite upset,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave the party but I had to take care of things.”
He returned to music as a guitar player with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. During breaks from that band, Montoya often would connect with Collins. “I’d come back, wash my clothes find out where Albert was and fly out there. I always had an amp on his bus. I played rhythm and would just hang out. Sometimes at the places I had just played.”
The liner credits on his 2017 album, “Hard Truth,” read like a who’s who of blues artists. It was produced by Tony Braunagel, mixed by John Porter and the musicians include Mike Finnigan, Johnny Lee Schell, Bob Glaub, who, like Montoya, attended Venice High School
“You’ve got to come up with a goods when you’ve got these kind of guys because they’re not screwing around,” Montoya told Tahoe Onstage before last year’s show.
Sept. 4th – Cedric Burnside Project
Bluesdays 10th season concludes with a rare treat, the percussive, hypnotic Hill Country blues from the Cedric Burnside Project.
Cedric Burnside is the son of drummer Calvin Jackson and grandson of the all-time great R.L. Burnside. He began touring at age 13.
“My granddad used to play out on the porch, and we’d have house parties every weekend. Johnny Woods would come over and blow harmonica, and he’d drink two or three gallons of corn liquor. We just stomped up dirt,” he said.
Burnside plays in a duo with guitarist Trenton Ayers, whose father was in Junior Kimbrough’s band. Ayers and Cedric Burnside have been friend since they were children.
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.