Eli Young Band’s beautiful night in the Carson Valley

James Young and Mike Eli rock TJ's Corral on a summertime Sunday night. Tahoe Onstage photos by Tim Parsons

James Young and Mike Eli rock TJ’s Corral on a summertime Sunday night.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Tim Parsons

Mike Eli offered up an explanation: “We’re just a glorified garage band — we’ve been around 16 years.”

The Eli Young Band has come along way in the past decade and a half, from playing tiny honky-tonks in Texas to opening for the likes of Kenny Chesney to headlining its own tours. Sunday night, the boys delivered some “Saltwater Gospel” to a fired up congregation at the Carson Valley Inn, while admitting their sins of perhaps getting “Drunk Last Night.” There were even a few “amens.”

Frontman Eli met bandmates James Young (lead guitar), Jon Jones (bass) and Chris Thompson (drums) at University of North Texas. They’ve played together ever since. They are joined on tour by Cal Richardson, who adds rhythm guitar, banjo and keyboards to the mix.

On a breezy evening outdoors at TJ’s Corral, it was clear the players are a band of brothers, providing tight musicianship to their rockin’ country tunes and clearly having a good time as the sun set over the eastern Sierra.

“It’s beautiful night, don’t you think?” Eli said. “We’re from Texas, and it’s about 125 degrees there right now.”

Eli told fans how it all began. His parents took him to a Garth Brooks concert at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo when he was about 10 years old. Afterward, the youngster proclaimed he wanted to be a country singer. His mama replied, “Son, you can be anything you want to be — she lied to me at the most appropriate time.” But papa had other ideas: “Son, I’ve been working three jobs for the last decade so you can go to college. If you don’t go to college, I’m gonna kick your ass.”

“So I went to college, met these guys the first week and we formed a band,” Eli said.

The formative years led to inspiration for songs such as “Small Town Kid” and the No. 1 hit “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.” And the harsh Texan landscape provided fodder for “When It Rains” and “Thunder Rolls.”

The feel-good sumertime anthem “Saltwater Gospel” has given Eli and Young, both parents now, time to reflect on the vastness of life. It’s more of a spiritual tune than a religious one, focusing feeling God’s blessings on an ocean beach rather than in a church pew. “I’m out here by myself, but I know I’m not alone/ I can feel the power of the saltwater gospel/ I’m as close to God as I can get…”

The band dished up the gospel midway through a 13-song set, along with a second song, “Drive” from its upcoming album.

In the end, it came back to “Crazy Girl,” perhaps the Eli Young Band’s best known song and one that garnered an Academy of Country Music Award in 2011. Concertgoers provided the backup vocals, which prompted a shower of guitar picks, selfies and smiles on both sides of the stage.

  • Eli Young Band
    TJ’s Corral, Carson Valley Inn
    Minden, Nevada. Aug. 14, 2016
  1. Fingerprints
  2. Always the Love Songs
  3. Skeletons
  4. Turn It On
  5. Saltwater Gospel
  6. Drive
  7. Drunk Last Night
  8. Small Town Kid
  9. When It Rains
  10. Thunder Rolls
  11. Even If It Breaks Your Heart — Fly
  12. Guinevere
  13. Crazy Girl

    Eli Young 1 Eli Young 2 Eli Young 4 Eli Young 6 Eli Young 7 Eli Young 9 Eli Young 10 Eli Young 11Eli Young 12

About Randy Hashagen

Tahoe Onstage copy chief Randy Hashagen, a former Bay Area journalist, walked away from his career to become a crazy cab driver. He's still barnstorming, but his wing-walking days are over. Lately, he has been watching the world flow through Lake Tahoe since 2012.

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