Crown Room bliss: JJ Grey’s soulful return to Crystal Bay

Tahoe Onstage

JJ Grey and Mofro inspire Crystal Bay Casino during a 2-hours and 15-minutes show on Thursday.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Michael Smyth

A JJ Grey & Mofro concert is like medicine for your soul.

Grey is introspective and — like Buddha onstage with a microphone — always emphasizes being in the moment.

A soulful songwriter from Florida’s swampland, Grey’s appearance Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Crystal Bay Casino was the first since 2011.

The 17-song, 2-hours and 15-minutes concert that ensued — for an audience of about 500  — was a most thoughtful look on life. It was passionate, inspirational and full of bliss. How often do you see tough-looking, bearded dudes shed tears and moments later break out into dance? That’s what happened during the encore when Grey and his superb seven-piece band played “Brighter Days.”

The charismatic bandleader welcomed the crowd: “Hello Nevada … and California.” Despite his hiatus from the venue on the state border on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Grey knows the area well.

He was still working in a lumber yard when he played his first festival, High Sierra, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills an hour’s drive away. Since the 2011 Crown Room show, he’s returned to the High Sierra Music Festival and also has played at Reno and at a chilly outdoor wintertime concert at Northstar California Resort. Before that, starting in 2007, when he was making his rise to national prominence, he played every year at Crystal Bay.

Nowadays, Grey and his suit-wearing bandmates subscribe to B.B. King’s onstage fashion sensibility: A bluesman should dress for a show as if he were going to the bank to get a loan.

Grey’s music isn’t technically blues, but it is in that it’s honest, true and convincing. After all, it would be difficult to disagree with his views. I, too, and am tired of today’s rampant “candyassery.” People whining about how bad it is when they, in fact, don’t have it bad at all. And, yes, the greatest gift is to give back. Finally, mustard greens are an underrated green – that’s a charmingly Southern observation.

When he tells a story or sings a song, Grey has knack for turning and looking at you in the eye as he delivers the punchline. He makes it personal. That’s why his fans know the lyrics, sing along and attend multiple concerts.

With a devout following, Grey is mindful to try not to preach, however, if, as Buddha wrote, you propose to speak always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind. And if anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart.

“When you see something wrong, change it if you can,” Grey said. “If you can’t, roll with it.”

Words to live by.

The Commonheart: an uncommon opening band

This is the opener?!

That thought must have gone through everyone’s mind when the show headlined by J.J. Grey & Mofro started in the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room.

The Commonheart, a nine-piece from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is fronted by Clinton Clegg, who has the voice of Bob Seger and performs with the passion of Charles Bradley.

The band is a R&B rock powerhouse with a horn section and backup singers. It is following JJ Grey’s giant tour bus in a van and a trailer, chasing a musical dream across the country. The band blew the crowd away with its soulful original “I Ain’t No Angel.”

Closing with a 50-minute set with the gospel “Aloysius,” the Crown Room became a cathedral. The next time through, The Commonheart will be atop Crystal Bay’s iconic marquee.

— Tim Parsons

Related story: Interview with JJ Grey.

  • JJ Grey & Mofro
    Jan. 24, 2018
    Crystal Bay Casino
    1 – 99 Shades of Crazy
    2 – Somebody Else
    3 – The Sweetest Thing
    4 – Brave Lil’ Fighter
    5 – Fireflies
    6 – A Woman
    7 – Every Minute
    8 – Gal Youngin
    9 – Seminole Wind
    10 – Lochloosa
    11 – Orange Blossoms
    12 – Slow, Hot and Sweaty
    13 – Ho Cakes
    14 – The Sun is Shining
    15 – Brighter Days
    16 – This River
    17 – Ol’ Glory

    Lights are shining down on JJ Grey & Mofro at the Crystal Bay Casino on Thursday, Jan. 24.
    Tahoe Onstage photos by Michael Smyth

    The Commonheart

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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