It was supposed to be the first beer garden show at the Alibi Ale Works – Incline Public House, but the Sierra Nevada weather turned cold. However, Tony Furtado, leading an acoustic string trio, heated things up with a sizzling show inside.
When owners Kevin Drake and Rich Romo scouted the site of what was the Hacienda Del La Sierra Mexican Restaurant, they envisioned setting a stage at the bottom of the property’s hillside. It’s a natural amphitheater. After opening in midsummer, Alibi Incline has presented music indoors.
Based in Portland, Oregon, Furtado played one of the first shows at the original Alibi Ale Works on E. Enterprise Street. He’s a longtime favorite at Tahoe, playing numerous times in the area, especially the Crystal Bay Casino.
“We’ll have some fun with this one because we’ve done it before with drums, but not with this trio,” Furtado said before the show. “It’s a fun concept. Maybe slightly more grassy, I guess.”
Keith Brush plays standup bass and Luke Price plays fiddle.
When seeing Furtado play for the first time, many – especially guitarists – ask him: “What in the hell is going on with your right hand?”
The virtuoso’s unusual approach comes from his musical roots. His first instrument was a banjo.
“Getting my own sound has always been kind of interesting because I’ve got the weird right hand,” he told Tahoe Onstage.
A fine arts major at Cal State Hayward, Furtado dropped out of school to tour as a banjo player with Laurie Lewis & Grant Street. Deeply influenced by Bela Fleck, he made some progressive banjo albums with Rounder Records. Later, inspired by Piedmont style blues he heard on KPIG radio, and, in particular, a slide guitarist who used a butter knife, he studied the pioneers as well as contemporaries Ry Cooder and David Lindley.
“I just wood-shedded,” he said. “I played farmers markets, sitting on a crate and making tips until I felt I was getting something, writing some cool tunes.
“I made another change and moved to Boulder, Colorado, where I heard the music scene was pretty open-minded, experimental and fun.”
Furtado became a band leader and explored different music realms, such as jazz and fusion, and instruments such as a cello banjo.
“It’s nice to have different instruments to pick up and see if something’s percolating on one,” he said. “Singing with a cello banjo is a lot easier for me than singing with a regular banjo. With a regular banjo, I go into this mode of playing too many notes. You can’t really do that with a cello banjo.”
Furtado’s career in music has included highs and lows with management agencies and labels. That led to his return to fine arts, which he left to pursue music.
His clay-based sculptures have become part of his livelihood almost as much as music.
“Portland has a great art scene as much as it does a music scene,” he said. “I can zen out on sculpting and then pick up an instrument and write a song and forget about the pressure. It gives me a mental space away from the biz. It’s helped a lot.”
After a tour of Southern Oregon, Northern and Central California, Furtado will take off five months from preforming to record and album, sculpt and have family time, making the Alibi Ale Works show even more special.
— Tim Parsons