Slithering, electrocution and a pineapple sum up Gremfest

Tahoe Onstage

All my friends — Spencer Kilpatrick and pals rock Gremfest in Midwown’s 40 Mile Saloon.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Tony Contini

Day 2 of Gremfest 2018 blurred the lines between band and crowd. Musicians came out of the brickwork to join in jam sessions. The bands are so nice and supportive, it’s adorable. And I’m a cynical prick who compares every band to Pink Floyd.Tahoe Onstage

Then Klay Thompson made a 3 from deep range and the entire mood of the game changed — oops, I got caught up in the NBA conference finals. Who scheduled Gremfest during the Warriors game? The answer is Kelsey Garfinkle, and she did a hell of a job. She aimed for 14 bands, but ended up squeezing in 19. It was a marathon of melodies.

The day started with a band of teenagers from Innovations High School called Spiteful Mourning. These kids are the real deal, driven and composed.

Next came SWIGS, dressed as a Reel Big Fish cover band. These technicolored goobers sing happy tunes about things such as Mario Kart 64. Tony Contini / Tahoe OnstageThey aim for the quirkiness only The Presidents of the United States of America can achieve. They are harmless.

It was drummer Alise Corbin’s birthday, alongside Garfinkle and a few others. Someone slipped a five dollar bill down her shirt in true, classy Reno fashion.

Pink Frank started their set as promised, with an impromptu group forging Shotgun Sawyer’s frontman Dylan Jarman and two-thirds of Failure Machine. They practiced the day before and played songs from Jarman’s old band Pandoval’s catalog.

The two-piece from Sacramento started with 45 seconds of “TNT” by AC/DC — too many letters. They played a song about Failure Machine, and the intent was cute.

Singer/guitarist Dino Dimare sings like an emotionless Bob Dylan. That’s a compliment to some! Their drummer played shirtless with a fat “Bad Boy” piece of bling around his neck. Dimare obviously was jealous of how free he looked, because he looped a clanky chord in order to put down his guitar and unbutton his polka dot blouse to disrobe as well.

They are The anti-Brankas. While yesterday’s math rockers changed tempo every 12 seconds, Pink Frank’s set felt like one long interlude, but not an ethereal, magical kind. They’re like math rockers who didn’t pass algebra.

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

The Mervs are a side project featuring three quarters of El Camino Sutra from Monterey. The entire band couldn’t attend, so they put together this new group just for the fest. We were the first to hear it.

There was a snafu when their bassist was electrocuted by his microphone during sound-check. I’ve been shocked before, and let me tell you, it’s no laughing matter … that is, unless you’re watching it happen. Then it’s actually really funny. In a pinch, Eric Smith from Joan and the Rivers saved the day by retrieving one of SWIGS’ colorful microphone connies to protect his lips.

They played fun pop-punk, a rare breed nowadays. While tuning up, the singer/guitarist Adam Behan played a snippet of “Dammit” by Blink-182 and made a joke of it, but they straight up sounded like them a little.

They come from a good place. They’re positive, but not too gimmicky. The moment I typed myself a note about them not being gimmicky during the show, they reworked Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” into a song. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

They’re like a wizened Blink-182 who stopped singing songs about high school to prey on impressionable minds of the youth. They closed with a cover of The Cars’ “Just What I Needed” and it ruled.

Tony Contini

BASHA kind of blew my mind. The three-piece from Reno seem to be discovering themselves or something. I’ve seen them a few times, and their singer Amber Scala is always saying something about her throat and its condition. I mistakenly took a medieval literature class in college and learned, in Italian, this act is called sprezzatura. It’s like Eddie Van Halen saying, “Oh, I haven’t practiced in a while” before he melts your face off.

Before a song, Scala said, “This is gonna be shit.” So I knew it was gonna be awesome. But nowhere in my wildest dreams did I imagine these sisters would break into Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral.” They’ve earned a fan for life.

When the sisters play and sing together they muster an impressive sound. They closed up with a killer cover of No Doubt’s “Just a Girl.”

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

The four-piece Girl Friday drove up from Los Angeles for all of their first visits to our Biggest Little City. Then they stole the show, in my opinion.

Singer/guitarist/bassist Vera Ellen immediately removed her black leather boots to play in her polka dot socks. She’s an expressive musician who writhed on the ground at times with her guitar that had a “Seinfeld” sticker on it.

They use compelling chord transitions and three-part harmony to captivate the audience. The three vocalists approach their microphones at the same time like snakes slithering up to prey. They had touches of a surf vibe and reminded me of The Drums from New York.

Nothing about their set was stale. At one point their drummer Virginia Pettis joined in on vocals for a four-way round, a device lost through the ages. At another point, singer/guitarist Sierra Scott embellished a calm interlude with softly spoken words. It was eerily soothing.

Women are so powerful and entrancing. Support all the female musicians you know relentlessly. These ladies drove over eight hours with no promise of money to perform. They also spray paint their own T-shirts. When you’re looking up these grimy surf rockers on Facebook, make sure it’s not the other two Girl Fridays that are definitely not them.

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

Brothers of the Oven are a two-piece band from Red Bluff. They fought through some technical trouble and some beer spilling to unleash their airy rock.

When their singer/guitarist couldn’t get his guitar to stay in tune, he became one of many to share Spencer Kilpatrick of Failure Machine’s guitar. And he treated her right.

“This song is dedicated to my girlfriend who drove here to watch me tune,” he said.

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

Van Goat shifted the 40 Mile Saloon into full party mode. They are a jazzy punk five-piece from Oakland who know what’s up. They combined with Failure Machine and were dubbed Goat Machine or Failure Van or something like that. The stage was overflowing with horns and drinks.

The energy was consistently through the roof. They played Failure Machine’s “Wedding Song” as everyone smiled, sang along and enjoyed their friends.

Oh, yeah. And pineapples.

“Ben Einstein on keys uses a pineapple as a synth pad type thing,” Kilpatrick said. “When he touches it, it plays a note or a sound.”

This might sound like drunken ramblings of a fool, but it’s not. That’s honestly a layer of their band.

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

The transition to Failure Machine’s set was seamless because their stuff was already strewn about. Kilpatrick casually ripped on his guitar while sitting, perched atop a stack of amps.

This garage soul three-piece from Reno can play anything from Fontella Bass to Led Zeppelin to Kenny Loggins. And they’ve got Reno on a string. I saw a girl in one band shirt, then during their set, she was suddenly wearing one of theirs.

They are masters of vibe and mood changes: smooth and soulful jazzy sax to grungy garage rock.

“This is usually the part of the set when we play old Failure Machine songs,” Kilpatrick said. “But all our friends already played them. So I’m getting all them up here for a new one.”

The stage exploded with talent from Reno and our neighboring state.

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

Hopeless Jack, a bluesy two-piece from Reno, closed the night with fiercely honest rock and roll and slide guitar. Frontman Jack Beisel’s low raspy voices cuts like a knife. They’re two parts badass and one part extremely approachable and relatable.

Beisel said they had two more songs to play, one was for the crowd, the other for him.

The Reno music scene and all their wild friends are making the right moves and representing their region with heartfelt music and passion.

-Tony Contini

Photo of Kelsey Garfinkle by Angela Taylor.

Related story: Gremfest Day 1 redefines “functional alcoholism.”

BASHA

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

Brothers of the Oven

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

Hopeless Jack

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

SWIGS

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

Pink Frank

Tony Contini / Tahoe OnstageTony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

Girl Friday

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

Van Goat

Failure Machine

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

About Tony Contini

Photographer and journalist Tony Contini graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in art photography. He loves working with bands and telling stories. Photography portfolio: https://www.TonyContini.com

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