North Mississippi Allstars give Hill Country to mountaineers

Tahoe Onstage

Luther Dickinson and the North Mississippi Allstars poured on the jam at Crystal Bay Casino on Feb. 8.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

After 2 hours and 40 minutes of rolling and tumbling, it really does feel like I’ve been drinking muddy water and sleeping in a hollow log. I can’t wait for the chance to do it again.

The North Mississippi Allstars made the most of their first visit to Crystal Bay in a few years with a thoroughly joyful concert that felt more like a house party, with the musicians exchanging instruments and joking and making eye contact with audience members.

The hosts were the trio’s founders, brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, and new bass player Carl Dufrene, who stepped onstage grinning and bobbing his head side to side to the beat of house music by Howlin’ Wolf. One look at Dufrene is to imagine how cool it is to be invited into the Dickinsons’ band.

Photographers were instructed to only shoot the first two songs. Fortunately, that gave them a full 20 minutes. The rivers of jam and Hill Country blues cross with the North Mississippi Allstars — a name that’s hardly ostentatious. Sons of famed producer and player Jim Dickinson, Luther is a genius on slide guitar and Cody a superstar on drums (which he can play simultaneously with keyboards) and unparalleled on electric washboard.

If Luther Dickinson isn’t the happiest musician on either side of the Mississippi, he’s the best actor. Audience members welcomed the Allstars with perfectly legal gifts they tossed upon the stage. Midway through a song, Luther, a Southern hippie showman, playfully posed with one of the twisted offerings pressed between his lips to show his appreciation.

As he turned knobs on a Les Paul guitar, Marshall amps and on a foot pedal, he waved his arm as if he was pushing sound to the crowd. The reverberation extended the notes so long they sounded looped.

“This is so much fun,” he beamed like a kid playing his father’s instruments in the basement. “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to do this.”

After the trio played Junior Kimbrough’s “Meet Me in the City,” Luther Dickinson gave credit to the Hill Country great who took him under his wing when he was a teenager. An Allstar with humility and grace, he also saluted R.L. Burnside, acknowledging where the sound originated.

Clare Foster

Set list from Friday’s show.

“That was Mississippi style, with some Crystal Bay for good measure,” said Dickinson, who knows the Crown Room well and clearly appreciates every performance there.

Luther and Cody Dickinson’s early days with the North Mississippi Allstars included bass player Chris Chew. The band had a hiatus when Luther later became lead guitarist for the Black Crowes and Cody started side projects. Before his death in 2009, father Jim Dickinson told his sons that they were at their best when playing with each other, and the North Mississippi Allstars have been together ever since.

Multi-instrumentalist Lightning Malcom, an acolyte of Hill Country blues greats Otha Turner and R.L. Burnside, replaced Chew for a while. Then came Danielle Nicole, who had been with her family band from Kansas City, Trampled Under Foot. When Danielle Nicole went solo, she had a 2019 Grammy nod for Best Contemporary Blues Album, 2018’s “Cry No More”

Enter Carl Dufrene, who is as Louisiana as his name sounds. He has long hair, a beard and no mustache. He’s been playing bass with Anders Osborne. Until joining the North Mississippi Allstars, I am pretty sure he’d never played a 2-string paint-can bass, which he did on two songs Friday, accompanied by Luther on the 2-string coffee-can guitar.

Cody Dickinson played guitar during the encore, as Luther did a robot routine on drums. Next, in what appeared to be authentically improvisational, Luther Dickinson and Dufrane exchanged instruments. Dufrane soloed on guitar and Dickinson inched as close to the audience as possible, with his toes seemingly curled on the edge of the stage, playing bass and savoring the moment.

That hollow log can wait.

— Tim Parsons

Related story: Q&A with Luther Dickinson.

Tahoe Onstage

Cody Dickinson plays the electric washboard, as well as drums, keyboard and guitar.

Tahoe Onstage

Carl Dufrene is the new bass player for North Mississippi Allstars.

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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