G. Love, Ron Artis II serve up Special Sauce — and The Truth

Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

Ron Artis joins G. Love & Special Sauce during the encore set at the sold-out Crystal Bay Casino on Thursday, March 29.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Michael Smyth

The beloved G. Love & Special Sauce returned to the shores of Lake Tahoe at the Crystal Bay Club on a 25th Anniversary Tour of good music and vibes that looked as much to the future as it did the past.

How do you celebrate an anniversary? Well if you’re Garrett Dutton, aka G. Love, you go on a multi-coast national tour with thousands of your friends and admirers, spending the night kicking out the jams and reveling in the special moments that come up throughout.

Dutton and Special Sauce drummer Jeffrey Clemens and string bassist Jim Prescott have been serving their unique brew of funky blues-hop for 25 years and Thursday was another chance for them to tip their fedoras and toast another sold-out crowd of fans and lovers who came to party.

G. Love hand-picked openers Ron Artis II & The Truth to support his West Coast shows and man, can he pick ‘em. He has a thing for Hawaii, having previously helped bring Jack Johnson to larger audiences in the surfer’s early days as a musician, and after experiencing the power of Ron Artis and company, I’d say he’s 2 for 2.

The band’s set was a freewheelin’ tear through blues, R&B and rock that felt unbridled and fresh. Ron Artis II is a natural leader and frontman whose passion for music beams from his soulful voice and arresting guitar and piano playing. The fact we were dealing with a special talent was evident early on, when Artis and his brothers, drummer Stevon Artis and bassist Victor Artis, moved through the shape-shifting soul ballad “Searching For Answers.”

Sparse spiritual glides from the guitar led to a smooth hook and simmering vocals from Ron, Stevon and Victor commandingly moving the song forward. A fiery solo then erupted from the depths of his soul and burned the whole song to the ground as his brothers stoked the flames with earnest vigor. When there was nothing left, they calmly dipped back into the soothing flow of the intro.

Ron Artis II & The Truth are certainly baptized in the power and vibe of old-school R&B, blues and rock, but it is fresh and vital in their hands as opposed to old and tracked-out. There is an instinctual feel to their sound and playing that came across as raw and spontaneous. After another scorching guitar solo on “What Kind of People,” Ron smiled and dedicated the corresponding Rhodes piano solo to Tahoe Onstage editor Tim Parsons, delivering a slick run on the keys, all while kneeling to account for its short height and the lack of a stool. They then popped-off into the boogie-woogie of “B-B-Be Yourself” that really sealed the deal for the ever-growing crowd, which couldn’t stop dancing after that.

The peak of the night was “King of The World,” a chicken-scratch blues rocker that barely held together as the band careened around its corners, Ron driving the mean machine with an furious, unhinged solo. They left the stage amid calls for encores, big, genuine smiles on their faces. For anyone that had felt a little jaded by live music walking in, Ron Artis II & The Truth stripped the wires and sparked them with a fresh jolt of raw, authentic music. Bring your shades because the future is bright; Ron Artist & The Truth’s sun is just starting to rise.

G. Love & Special Sauce took the energy of the first set and ran with it. It’s hard to believe the band has been around for 25 years because it sounded as vibrant and loose as it’s ever been. The band took the stage to an uproarious rise from the packed house, Dutton looking dope as hell in his maroon suit and hat to match. With just a nod from the guitarist, the band catapulted into the back-porch swagger of “Sugar” with sweet panache, Dutton bouncing around on his graffiti-splattered chair along with his brothers in music. “Recipe” from 1997’s “Yeah, It’s That Easy” came next and the band unleashed a one-two combo of good vibes “Peace, Love and Happiness” and “Dreams.” The band started hot and kept that heat up the whole night.

G. Love & Special Sauce looked and sounded real good for 25. They are eligible for the Hall of Fame at this point and while you probably won’t see their name on the ballot anytime soon, they’ve cemented their legacy as party-vibe musicians who’ve stayed true to their unique sound. Dutton’s slack-jawed rhyming and blues-centric guitar playing found its groove in the hot, jazzy rhythm of Prescott and Clemens and they’ve only distilled that chemistry into something more potent and rich in 25 years.

As this was an anniversary tour, the first set leaned more toward the songs they built their reputation and career on, such as “Small Fish” and “This Ain’t Living.” There was still a lot of virility and passion in their delivery, with “I-76” blasting out the speakers with cool confidence and “Fatman” giving people that good stink-face as the gutter-bucket hook and Dutton’s grimey flow captivated the crowd into a communal head nod.

The second set was a deeper dive into the varied musical tones of G. Love & Special Sauce. Dutton has said he considers himself a bluesman before anything and he backed up that sentiment by opening the second set with nothing but an acoustic guitar and chair, riffing through a short solo set that included “Still Hanging Round” and “Back to Boston.” Clemens and Prescott then rejoined him for a hazy “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” and a jangly “Rodeo Clowns,” the Jack Johnson collaboration featured on the album “Philadelphonic.”

Even after all that partying, G. Love still had one more favor for the crowd. Ron Artis II came and joined the band on a blues-centric run of jamming that raised the stakes and took the night to its peak. Dutton was on slide and the two guitarists traded verses and smiles throughout, Dutton usually taking a joyful backseat to admire Artis, who had one more chance to grip and rip his guitar in front of Tahoe. The crowd ate it up and so did the band.

It was a stellar and engrossing night of music all curated by Dutton and his musical vision of love and good vibes. Twenty five years of G. Love & Special Sauce certainly is huge milestone for Dutton, Clemens and Prescott.

– Garrett Bethmann

Related stories:
Meet Ron Artis II.
Do you know a guy named Garrett Dutton?

About Garrett Bethmann

Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. He moved to Lake Tahoe in summer 2012.

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