With fancy duds and punch lines, Tab Benoit does Reno

Tahoe Onstage
Tab Benoit plays a beat-up Telecaster at Cargo Concert Hall in Reno with the Whiskey Bayou Revue.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Michael Smyth

Tab Benoit talked about his looks at Reno’s Cargo Concert Hall on Wednesday but did not mention that he shaved the beard he’d worn for decades.

“I know I look fancy with this nice shirt,” he said, crediting his mother for fashion advice. But the clothing clashed with his old, beat-up Telecaster Thinline guitar. “This guitar didn’t look this was when I bought it. This is the result of Courvoisier and sweat.”

Tahoe OnstageThe Louisianan’s aggressive approach to his instrument has honed it to near splinters. He plays it so hot that it could be used to boil a pot of crawfish. The near-capacity audience was in rough shape at the end of the night, too.

Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou Revue was a concoction of three parts music and one-part comedy. Benoit considered a stand-up career before he began abusing his Tele on a full-time basis. He’s also a pilot and a conservation activist, as well as co-owning Whiskey Bayou Records. Two stars on the label – blues guitarist Eric Johanson and soul singer Jeff McCarty – opened the show with a 45-minute set that had Benoit on the drum set. Keyboardist Ryan Bergeron came onstage to add some funk to McCarty’s songs.

Benoit grabbed his guitar after an intermission and opened with a fiery, rocking version of a Muddy Waters’ classic, “Why are People Like That,” and the show was ablaze. Benoit’s longtime bandmate Corey Duplechin played bass and Jeffrey “Jellybean” Alexander reclaimed his drum kit. There were just 11 songs, but each included long-groove guitar solos and in between every few songs Benoit would talk to his devout fans. The second set lasted more than two hours. Johanson and McCarty came out for the two encore songs.

He’s been induced into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and has won a number of Blues Music Awards, but Benoit is self-deprecating about his fame.

“It’s nice that I can go to The Home Depot and not be recognized except by you and a few other cool people,” he said. “Does anybody have a request?”

There was a huge audience response.

“I said anybody, not everybody,” said Benoit, before commenting about all the different songs titles people called for. “It’s all my stuff! That’s pretty awesome. We’ve gotten out of the ‘Free Bird’ range.”

Benoit walked three steps to the side from the microphone for his ripping guitar solos, which would crescendo and inspired him to bounce as if on a Pogo stick. A highlight during a night of highlights came during an extended washboard-sounding jam on “We Make a Good Gumbo.”

“That was fun!”

Benoit’s enthusiasm for everything is infectious. It was hard to tell what he liked more, his guitar or the microphone. Or whatever he had in his plastic cup. The audience, an older crowd, was right there with him.

“I don’t understand drunk Reno,” Benoit said as the audience shouted toward the stage. “Maybe it’s your accent. Or maybe it’s mine.”

Benoit recalled playing shows at “The Garage” in the Reno Hilton. And he gave a shout-out to the Reno Blues Society, whose members had come out to those performances. He was reminded that his last appearance in the Biggest Little City was 2003. However, he’s played at Lake Tahoe in recent years, the last time with the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars, named for his group that promotes preservation of the coastal wetlands.

He said he likes to visit Tahoe to see all the houses he can’t afford. He talked about being snowbound in a vacation home, breaking into an emergency closet and then building a luge trail. “If the closet is going to have mushrooms and a whole lot of beer, it should have helmets, too.” That’s a story he’s told so many times, it’s probably true.

It was a night of laughter, dancing and improvisation. Benoit doesn’t refer to a set list.

“There’s no paperwork,” he said. “I just kickstart the motor and it starts running. … It’s not about being perfect. It’s about feeling good and putting out a message.”

— Tim Parsons

  • Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou Revue
    Cargo Concert Hall, Reno
    Nov. 7, 2018
    1 – Why are People Like That?
    2 – Whole Lotta Soul
    3 – Sunrise
    4 – One Foot in The Bayou
    5 – Feel Alright
    6 – Dirty Dishes
    7 – For What It’s Worth
    8 – We Make a Good Gumbo
    9 – Medicine
    10 – New Orleans Ladies
    11 – Night Train

    Tahoe Onstage
    Eric Johanson and Jeff McCarty are out front with Corey Duplechin and Tab Benoit on rhythm.
    Tahoe Onstage
    Eric Johanson and Jeff McCarty
    Tahoe Onstage
    Corey Duplechin has played bass with Tab Benoit for many years.
    Tahoe Onstage
    Who’s that unassuming guy playing drums?

    Tahoe Onstage

    Tahoe Onstage
    Eric Johanson and Jeff McCarty

ABOUT Tim Parsons

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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