Observations from the front line at Reno’s Off Beat Festival

Tahoe Onstage

Eric Smith of Joan and The Rivers and Spencer Kilpatrick of Failure Machine sing in the 40 Mile Saloon at Reno’s Off Beat Music Festival.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Photographer’s notebook: The plan was to end the night at Shea’s to see Elephant Rifle but I wound up staying at the 40 Mile Saloon for Failure Machine and a score of Spencer Kilpatrick’s outgoing musician friends. Either way, I made the rookie mistake of not packing ear plugs.

It’s Friday night of Reno’s autumn urban music festival. Like the name says, Off Beat is positively syncopated. Out of step from the towering downtown casino showrooms, the venues are the gritty and cool neighborhood bars in midtown. Off Beat is ideal for those with a musical wanderlust. It might become even better after the South Virginia Street construction is completed in two or so years. The bands are a mix of local groups and out-of-towners, local heroes from their own hometown taverns and clubs.

Last year, I hit as many places as I could, catching a couple of songs before moving to another spot. This time I wanted to take in full sets, and did so for Swoop Unit, Pearl Charles, Joan and The Rivers and Failure Machine and friends. Fellow Tahoe Onstage photographer Shaun Astor saw Pearl Charles, People With Bodies, Fringe Class and Dirty Revival.

Swoop Unit from the Bay Area is fronted by fiery and enthusiastic singer Rossana Schneider. It’s been together a decade and a half and it’s super tight. The set at The Saint began with slower, passionate soul before getting funky.

Pearl Charles loves Fleetwood Mac, but she reminds me of Jenny Lewis with the song arrangements and Judy Collins with her vocal range, hairstyle and country-rock/60s hippie vibe. She played in a four-piece for the packed crowd in The Loving Cup, so the songs were stripped down versions from her solo records, including the latest, “Sleepless Dreamer.” Check out the album cover and compare it to Collins 1967 “Wildfowers.” We could sure use another Summer of Love.

Spencer Kilpatrick greeted me at 40 Mile Saloon with a hug and a can of beer. He’s written about and played so much with Joan and The Rivers, so I circled this as the much-watch show. Bassist Mike Hickel, guitarist Eric Smith and drummer Caleb Kunkle were introduced by Spencer as the greatest rock band in the nation. And they are, if you are into that sort of thing. I’d call their visceral, jovial set punk rock. The many varieties of music offered at Off Beat create a fantastic symphony.

Very quickly, it seemed, it was time for Failure Machine, the Biggest Little garage soul band. Kilpatrick’s band mates are baritone saxophonist Rachael McElhiney and drummer Clint Philbin. They were joined by a keyboardist, some horn players and a bunch of other folks. The night and the weekend were basically one of Kilpatrick’s Grem Fests, a drunken, days-long celebration of great friends and music. My ears are still ringing.

— Tim Parsons

Swoop Unit

Pearl Charles

Tahoe Onstage

Pear Charles and her band perform on the edge of midtown Reno during the Off Beat Festival.
Shaun Astor / Tahoe Onstage

Shaun Astor / Tahoe Onstage

Tahoe Onstage / Shaun Astor

Pearl Charles play for a packed crowd in The Loving Cup during the Off Beat Music Festival in Reno.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Shaun Astor

Joan and The Rivers

Failure MachineTim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Fringe Class

Shaun Astor / Tahoe Onstage

Fringe Class plays at the Saint James Infirmary.
Shaun Astor / Tahoe Onstage

People With Bodies

Tahoe Onstage

Hometown heroes People with Bodies are the toast of the town at TLC.
Shaun Astor / Tahoe Onstage

Dirty Revival

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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