Dead Winter Carpenters: It’s a family affair

Tahoe Onstage

Jenni Charles and Jesse Dunn of the Dead Winter Carpenters.

Take a look outside and see that winter is far from dead. Even the hardiest of the hardcore will be ready for the meltdown of Lake Tahoe’s extreme snowpack by the time the Dead Winter Carpenters host its annual Winter’s Dead show on Saturday, May 20, in the Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room.

The North Shore band’s ever-expanding family recently performed at Squaw Valley’s WinterWonderGrass with a different yet familiar face on the bandstand. Founding bassist Dave Lockhart has moved to New Jersey, where he and his wife are preparing for the birth of a son. The move back East is permanent, although Lockhart will continue to tour and record with the Dead Winter Carpenters, who hope to have him back by the Winter’s Dead show.

“We’re expecting Dave and Dave’s wife is expecting a baby,” guitarist, singer/songwriter Jesse Dunn said.

In December, Dunn and Jenni Charles had a baby girl, Mabel.

Tahoe Onstage

Pete Charles is an original.

At WinterWonderGrass, Pete Charles, the father of fiddle player and singer Jenni Charles, was a most capable stand-in on the stand-up bass. Pete Charles is a multi-instrumentalist who studied music at UC Berkeley.

“He certainly knows a lot of the tunes but he also put in a phenomenal amount of work to really learn the intricacies of the tunes,” Dunn said. “He did a great job. It was a really great vibe with him up there. We were missing Dave, for sure, but if we had to have somebody fill in, Pete was a great call. He also has the direct connection. This is his 28th year on the Squaw Valley Ski Patrol.”

The Dead Winter Carpenters have played every WinterWonderGrass in Tahoe. The band also has played Colorado’s WinterWonderGrass.

“Scotty Stoughton and Jen Brazill did a really good job at creating this concept of a festival in the middle of winter, which seems a risk, to say the least, and they’ve really made a successful event and kudos to them for that,” Dunn said.

The Dead Winter Carpenters are legendary in Tahoe for their instant success when they played a 2010 Red Room after-party for the Yonder Mountain String Band. Within a couple of years, the band was selling out ticketed shows in the Crystal Bay Casino’s larger venue, the Crown Room. It has become a nationally known Americana band.

But many don’t know that the Red Room show wasn’t the first gig or that Pete Charles was the original bassist. The first show occurred somewhat by happenstance when Pete and Jenni Charles, Dunn and original guitarist Sean Duerr delivered a Hammond organ to the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City. They accepted an offer to play and did so under the name Fiddlin’ Jenni and the Organ Handlers.

Lockhart played with Dunn and Duerr in the band Montana Slim and Jenni Charles and drummer Ryan Davis were together with The Rusty Strings and Truckee Tribe. Those five teamed up to form the Dead Winter Carpenters. The newer members are guitarist Nick Swimley and drummer Brian Huston.

This year’s Winter’s Dead arrives a week early. Traditionally held on Memorial Day weekend, Winter’s Dead instead will be on Saturday, May 20. The day before that show, the band will play a San Francisco Winter’s Dead show at Slim’s. Then it travels to Chico for a Tuesday night show at the Sierra Nevada Brewery. On Memorial Day weekend, it’s Delfest in Cumberland, Maryland, followed by a monthlong tour on the East Coast. There will be West Coast shows in July.

That all leads us to the question, Who gets less sleep than musicians? That would be musicians with newborns.

Related story: Sam Bush reigns at WinterWonderGrass.

  • Winter’s Dead
    The Dead Winter Carpenters
    with Scott Law and Ross James’ Cosmic Twang
    When: 9 p.m. Saturday, May 20
    Tickets: $18 in advance or $20 on the day of the show
    Red Room after-party: Sam Ravenna

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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