Many locals who have attended concerts at the Crystal Bay Casino or Harrah’s Lake Tahoe have had fleeting dreams of standing on stage and rocking out with a crowd of hundreds just like their idols. But how many people have the drive or opportunity to make such a dream come true? South Lake Tahoe’s Worn Out Welcome players believe they have the opportunity to follow their dreams and make an impact in Tahoe’s music scene and are willing to put in the work.
Guitarist Josh Sweigert and mandolinist/fiddler Chris “C.J.” Cooney from Tahoe’s up-and-coming-bluegrass band Worn Out Welcome recently sat down with Tahoe Onstage over a couple of IPAs at Base Camp Pizza Company, the band’s unofficial home, to discuss their burgeoning bluegrass career.
Worn Out Welcome began to take shape around 2012 when Sweigert, who had been playing acoustic solo shows intermittently around Tahoe, began jamming with resonator guitarist Ryan “Riff” Cassidy. Starting a bluegrass band had been Sweigert’s goal, and with Cassidy he saw an opportunity to finally start putting the wheels in motion. Later, the duo added Cooney to the mix, and, after a few months, settled on Aaron Craig to hold down the low strings. The band members briefly played together as High Strung, but soon decided to change their name to Worn Out Welcome.
“It tests well in focus groups.” Sweigert joked.
And the acronym W.O.W. works, too.
The lineup has been performing as Worn Out Welcome since September 2014.
Both Sweigert and Cooney revealed that bluegrass hadn’t always been their passion. Cooney started playing the fiddle at the age of 4 but was surrounded by more square dancing and fiddle music in his native New York than bluegrass. “I really didn’t get into bluegrass until 2011 and started hitting Pandora bluegrass stations really hard,” Cooney said. “All the stuff that I played and listened to when I was younger just didn’t have the upbeat feel and craziness that I wanted out of it. Bluegrass satisfies that.” Sweigert said his love for bluegrass didn’t begin until he saw a Sam Bush concert in Virginia when he was 17.
Worn Out Welcome came to fruition, in part, because Sweigert believed he saw an opportunity to fill a void in the Tahoe music scene. “I came to realize this area loves bluegrass music and there is no real bluegrass band in town.” Sweigert said. He hoped Worn Out Welcome would be able to fill that void, with the potential to keep growing and gaining recognition regionally.
Sweigert’s excitement for Worn Out Welcome’s potential is based on his belief the band is full of talented and experienced players. “To be able to find the right instruments to play in a bluegrass band in Tahoe takes some work. But to find people that have basically bottomless talent and potential; I mean Chris has only been playing mandolin for two years and shreds it like Jeff Austin almost. It’s more about finding the right pieces of talent and personality and putting them into play and letting it grow from there,” Sweigert said.
Together, Cooney and Sweigert pointed out the unique set of skills each member brings to the table which are vital to the band’s success: Cooney brings the gear and bluegrass sensibility. Cassidy brings the musical knowledge and understanding. “During a show he is calling out chords in Roman numerals.” Cooney said. Craig brings the experience of working in different kinds of bands, and Sweigert brings the marketing and business rationale.
But both Cooney and Sweigert know their talent won’t mean much if they don’t put in the work to develop the music. “We’re still more worried about playing the right notes and singing the right words.” Conney said.
The two members explained the most important part right now for the band is practicing together and working on their stagecraft until they have a real solid musical foundation. They have amassed a live repertoire of around 35 songs, mostly bluegrass covers of everything from Bruce Springsteen to Blondie. Once they have mastered those songs and are comfortable with the sound of the band, they will begin adding more original songs to the mix.
When asked what goals they are looking to accomplish this year, Sweigert and Cooney indicated they wanted to hit the summer and fall festival season hard and aspire to release an album over the summer. On Saturday, Feb. 28 the band will accomplish an important by playing a show at the Red Room in the Crystal Bay Casino.
“Crystal Bay is, by far, I would say, the best venue on the lake for my money,” Sweigert said. “It brings in the most variety of talent. It draws, I think, probably, the biggest crowd that are coming just to see what the music is there.”
Cooney didn’t mince words when he talked about what he wanted Worn Out Welcome to accomplish for the Tahoe music scene.
“I want people to think about Tahoe when they say bluegrass, not just Colorado” said Cooney.
Worn Out Welcome will be playing a free show at the Red Room on Saturday Feb. 28 at 10 p.m. The band also has a weekly show at Base Camp Pizza Company every Monday from 5-9 p.m.
Worn Out Welcome
When: 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Red Room
Where else: Monday nights at Base Camp Pizza, Heavenly Village, South Lake Tahoe and March 7 at Steamers Bar and Grill, South Lake Tahoe