Good Old Time: Dead Winter Carpenters’ Tahoe reunion

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A picture perfect evening with hometown heroes Dead Winter Carpenters.

Tahoe stalwarts Dead Winter Carpenters played a career-spanning set Saturday night at the Crystal Bay Casino that perfectly captured where the band has been and where it is going.

Dead Winter Carpenters was the first concert I attended in Lake Tahoe when I moved here almost five years ago. In the same six-month span, I had the fresh-out-the-box aura of both graduating from college and moving across the country to a place where I knew no one.

The summer was a vibrant smattering of new people, places and experiences that had me falling in love with Tahoe at the little summer camp along the east shore where I lived and worked. One Saturday night, we caught a Dead Winter Carpenters show at the Crystal Bay Casino in a four-hour fury of fun before we had to be ready for campers the next day. I don’t remember much of the show at all, but I do remember Jenni Charles nailing the sultry hook of Outkast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious” on her fiddle, an unexpected cover bust out that I’ll never forget.

My life has changed two or three times over since those idyllic summer days, like chapters flipped through and finished in a novel. I was weaving in and out of my subsequent years along the shores of Lake Tahoe when the members of Dead Winter Carpenters took the stage Saturday night in the newly renovated Crown Room. There was a kinship I felt with the band. They were one of the handful things I could point to that had been with me from the beginning since I moved across the country to California. I could tell I was not the only one in the vivacious room feeling this alliance in both the crowd and on the stage.

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Dead Winter Carpenters newest member, Nick Swimley, has a vintage guitar, a replica of a 1951 Fender Nocaster, which was the original Telecaster.

The Dead Winter Carpenters hadn’t played the CBC since May and the crowd was eager to reunite with the beloved band. Nick Swimley’s vintage electric guitar floated the whirling melody of “Colorado Wildfire” out of the speakers and the band was off on the song’s warm rhythm. The song’s casual prettiness was made prettier by fiddler Jenni Charles’ honeyed vocals and it was wonderful way to kick off a nearly two-hour set that touched upon all the highlights in the band’s history.

That history is far longer and expansive than one might initially think. The band has released three full-length albums and one EP since its debut in 2010 and is planning to record another album in the fall. The Carpenters took the opportunity Saturday to play music from all of those releases and it was all-encompassing performance that felt like gazing through a photo album.

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Dave Lockhart plays a piece while flashing a peace sign.

The group has evolved from a barroom roots band to a hard-charging mountain country band full of twang and bravado. This transition was most exemplified when the band tore into fan-favorite “Winning Hand” from last year’s release “Washoe” and peppered the dusty, country verses with codas of electrified swagger that dipped into some light jamming of The Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street.”

The band also debuted two new songs that gave fans some insight into what might be on the next album. One was an up-tempo jaunt led by drummer Brian Huston’s rolling fills and Charles’ piping fiddle, while the second was a ballad gleaned from the acoustic guitar of Jesse Dunn. Both were solid offerings that signaled Dead Winter Carpenters is still producing magic.

Dead Winter Carpenters always has played nice with other musicians and its collaborative spirit always has been a point of its appeal. To celebrate the group’s return to Tahoe after a couple months they brought out two artists they’ve played with both in the basin and on tour. First was opener and local favorite Peter Joseph Burtt and his ethereal instrument, the Kora. Burtt’s rich voice shone like a deep sapphire on a transcendent “Darling Corey,” the whole outfit jammed like a rushing, atmospheric river.

A little while later they brought out flatpicking maestro Tyler Grant and gave the crowd a double shot of cosmic country with rowdy covers of Townes Van Zandt’s “Two Hands” and The Grateful Dead’s “Casey Jones.” Besides the obvious joy of watching the Dead Winter Carpenters play with two greats onstage in the same night, it was impressive to see the band morph so eloquently and convincingly into such two different spheres of music without missing a beat.

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Jenni Charles, Tyler Grant and Adrian Engfer shine onstage.
Clare Foster photo

About two-thirds of the way through the set, Charles introduced the combo of “Cabin Fever” and “Tahoe Gal” to the crowd, saying the band doesn’t often play these songs, but always finds time to share them with friends back home in Tahoe. The crowd was noticeably amped on those selections and danced harder on those two songs than at any other point in the night.

The move was a tip of the hat by the band to all the love and history it shares with its dedicated fans. It was a chance to revel in all the good times of the past, as the Dead Winter Carpenters are about to open a new chapter in its own novel. Dunn and Charles added to their family with a daughter, Mabel, and bassist Dave Lockhart has a child on the way.

-Garrett Bethmann

Related story: Jesse Dunn an agent and a new dad. LINK

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Jenni Charles at the mic.

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Jesse Dunn on acoustic guitar.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

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To see all of Larry Sabo’s photos, click the LINK

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Tahoe Onstage is an online entertainment and sports magazine covering Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Reno, the Carson Valley and June Lake.

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