Carolyn Wonderland gets the Crown on Saturday night

Carolyn Wonderland

Carolyn Wonderland rocks High Sierra Music Festival last month. She’s in Tahoe onstage at the Crystal Bay Casino on Saturday night. Tahoe Onstage image by Tim Parsons

Tahoe music fans don’t wonder about Carolyn Wonderland.

She’s played many times at the Crystal Bay Casino and the High Sierra Music Festival, always making folks smile with her superb guitar work, occasional riff on the trumpet and a stage presence that reminds people of Janis Joplin.

“I think every girl from Texas who sings is gonna have that,” Wonderland once  told me. “Honestly, my whole life people have asked me to do her songs.”

She finally agreed, and now regularly plays Joplin’s “What Good Can Drinkin’ Do.” It’s a blues song, the genre which Wonderland is most associated.

She grew up in Houston and was a neighbor of with Uncle John Turner, who played drums with Johnny Winter and founded the Houston Blues Society. Turner helped a teenaged Wonderland get a job as a driver. She recalled a story about driving for Gatemouth Brown, who played guitar, violin and smoked a pipe.

“I was his chauffer when I was a teenager, Wonderland said. “It thrilled me to death. I spent all day gathering up the best weed I could so I could roll him up like 10 of the prettiest joints ever.  And I go to pick him up and he promptly breaks it and puts it in his pipe.”

Wonderland and her band the Imperial Monkeys were regulars at Antone’s, the famous Guadalupe Street venue in Austin, Texas. She fell in love with the city but thought if she moved there full time, “it wouldn’t be as cool.”

But after an epiphany at High Sierra, she decided to live in Austin.

“It’s the land of free guitar lessons,” said Wonderland, who uses her long fingernails as picks. “Austin is a great place to live. A lot of cities where you’d have this many musicians, you would find it to be a far more competitive scene. Not so here. Everybody’s in everybody’s band. And if they are not playing, they are at each other’s shows cheering each other on. It’s an unusual little bubble we live in.”

Wonderland kept some Gatemouth Brown’s advice. She doesn’t categorize music and brushed off the notion that most Austin players are in indie bands.

“The musicians in this town will one night be in a punk band, one night be in a bluegrass band, one night be in a blues band. It’s the same musicians, different songs. All we want to do is play. So yeah, you might have some indie bands who also happen to have a hot shit-blues guitar player. You just never know because maybe that’s not what they’re going to do that night.”

Still alive and well, Wonderland’s trio has been together for several years. Cole El Saleh plays keyboards and Rob Hooper is on drums.


Carolyn Wonderland

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3

Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room

Tickets: $12 in advance or $15 at the door



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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