It seems every move Luther Dickinson makes with a guitar is brilliant. Even when he changes a string.
During the North Mississippi Allstars July 2 appearance on the Grandstand Stage at the High Sierra Music Festival, the slide guitarist snapped a string in midsong. Rather than stop, Dickinson replaced the string as he sang, while drummer Cody Dickinson and bassist Danielle Schnebelen laughed and kept the rhythm driving. Dickinson’s performance inspires visceral responses, like the stomping of the feet, shaking of the hips and, this time, a collective guffaw from 5,000 concertgoers.
What’s the next brilliant move for Dickinson and his band of all-star musicians? They will head to Lake Tahoe to play a pair of shows to close out the year. The North Mississippi Allstars will perform Friday, Dec. 30, in the Crystal Bay Casino with special guests the Monophonics, a psychedelic soul band from the Bay Area. On New Year’s Eve, Saturday, Dec. 31, NMA again will hold court in the Crown Room, this time with special guests Marc Broussard and John Medeski. Tickets go on sale Friday, Sept. 2.
Broussard headlined this summer’s Brews, Jazz and Funk Fest at Squaw Valley. His Bayou soul music is a gumbo of funk, blues, R&B and pop. Medeski is best known for his band Medeski Martin & Wood. He appeared at High Sierra last July with his DRKWAV, which played such an avant-garde form of jazz it made “Bitches Brew” seem like Kenny G.
Sons of famed producer Jim Dickinson, Luther and Cody formed the North Mississippi Allstars in 1996. Like in the big leagues, the other members vary. You never know who will make the all-star team from year to year. It could be Anders Osborne, or even Mavis Staples. The certainty is that during any given show the players will trade instruments — although Cody is the only one we’ve seen on the electric washboard — while delivering earth-shaking, roots-stomp Hill Country boogie blues.
“With the two brothers, we have some great improvisation going on,” said bassist Lightnin Malcolm, who appeared at Tahoe twice with the North Mississippi Allstars. “Some of these songs are really tight, but with these jams going on in the middle of them with some great moments. I get a kick out of holding that low end. It really helps them guys extend out into space and know they can come back to mother earth.”
Malcolm said Luther Dickinson is not a guitarist who plays a million notes. He spaces his groove and, as Malcolm says, “lets the notes marinate.”
The band went on a hiatus for a while and Luther Dickinson joined the Black Crowes. Their father’s death brought the brothers back together in 2010, when they recorded “Keys to the Kingdom.”
According to press materials, Jim Dickinson had told his sons, “You need to be playing music together. You are better together than you will ever be apart.”
The band has been prolific both in the studio and onstage ever since. And both brothers are busy producing albums for other artists, as well.
The December shows will be the fourth and fifth in the Crown Room for the North Mississippi Allstars. It also played the Hangtown Halloween Festival in 2015 and High Sierra in 2016, 2013 and 2003.
It’s always a treat to see who will join the Dickinsons onstage. At last summer’s High Sierra, the audience was thrilled to see the bass player was Danielle Schnebelen, formerly of Trampled Under Foot and a solo singer (Danielle Nicole) with a voice that reminds listeners of Etta James.
During a 2015 interview with Tahoe Onstage, Luther Dickinson was asked who would play in his dream super jam.
“There is gonna be a lot of guitar players probably,” he laughed. “The two people that came to mind are Jack White and Ryan Adams, who don’t get along, so let’s get them together. That will be interesting. And then I’ll play bass. And then we’ll get Dr. John, that would be good. And then who is gonna play drums? Pretty Lights! Pretty Lights, Pretty Lights! We don’t need drums, we just have him do his thing. And we need a girl. Aretha Franklin. Aretha and Pretty Lights.”
Luther Dickinson recently released a solo album, “Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook) Vol. 1 & II,” a striped-down 21-tune double album of his greatest and favorite songs.
In 2016, it says here, the Crystal Bay Casino has saved the best for last.