Lost Whiskey Engine is picking up steam.
After five years of singing, strumming and picking on and around Tahoe’s North Shore, the five-piece bluegrass band is hard at work on a debut EP and keenly looking forward to its first true festival season.
Lost Whiskey Engine is Sean McAlindin (guitar, piano), Conor McAlindin (mandolin), James “Mick” Melvin (upright bass), Ellen Flanagan (fiddle) and Peter Anderson (banjo).
The project began when Sean moved to Tahoe in 2013, joining his brother Conor, who was already living in the area. The brothers share a musical bond dating back to their childhood in New Jersey and Connecticut, Sean on piano and Conor on drums. By the time Sean was in high school, his rock band was playing local clubs, often with a 13-year-old Conor drumming.
When Sean headed west for college, however, his musical tastes shifted.
“I moved out to Colorado and got really into the bluegrass scene out there and that’s when we started picking up different instruments, like acoustic guitar, banjo,” he said. “My brother picked up the mandolin, and we started going to bluegrass festivals in the summer, and kind of just got into the bluegrass thing from there.
“It was just a fun thing for me and my brother to do when we were hanging out or with friends at a campfire.
That was always the idea with Lost Whiskey Engine, that you can kind of hop on the engine, hop off the engine. We liked to have a lot of special guests and make it a community thing, but we’ve kind of settled into a five piece at this point that has been consistent the last two or three years.”
Initially playing as just a duo, the McAlindins set out to establish themselves on the North Shore music scene. They hit the road one day with the goal of introducing themselves and having a drink in every venue at which they wished to perform, and perhaps dropping a copy of Sean’s recently recorded solo CD.
“Of course by the end of it, I’m not sure how good of an impression we made, but we did get to actually play at all these places in the next year,” he said with a chuckle.
The band at first was something of a rotating cast of friendly musicians, out of which this five-piece lineup gradually emerged and solidified.
“That was always the idea with Lost Whiskey Engine, that you can kind of hop on the engine, hop off the engine,” McAlindin said. “We liked to have a lot of special guests and make it a community thing, but we’ve kind of settled into a five piece at this point that has been consistent the last two or three years.”
Thus far, Lost Whiskey Engine has played at a wide range of Tahoe venues, predominantly on the North Shore, while traveling as far as the Divided Sky in Meyers at South Shore. This year, however, the band is gearing up for some significant steps forward.
Lost Whiskey Engine has been booked for two upcoming local music festivals, with appearances at WinterWonderGrass Tahoe on Saturday, April 7, and at Guitarfish Music Festival in late July.
The Wondergrass gig came out of Lost Whiskey Engine jamming at and around the festival in past years. “The first two years, we played in the parking lot during the day, just jamming, and we also did an after-party Saturday night at Rocker with the band,” McAlindin said.
While the group was too busy for an official after-party last year, it managed an impromptu appearance that created a splash.
“We decided to get together Sunday afternoon right at the entrance to the festival, right by the bus stop there,” Sean McAlindin said. “We did a two-hour session with us and a bunch of other people that just kind of jumped in.
“I don’t know if they heard about that or talked about it, but a bunch of people walked by and they were definitely digging it.”
Sean reached out to festival founder Scotty Stoughton afterward, saying that his band would be honored to perform if they were the right fit. Lost Whiskey Engine was booked shortly thereafter.
“We’re super stoked,” McAlindin said. “That was definitely a big life-goal thing, to play a festival with all these other bands that we look up to.”
Safely on the lineup for these higher-profile appearances, the band recently has gone to ground, rehearsing heavily and working on material for a debut, six-song EP of original music.
“We want people to feel like we belong, and just put on the best show we can and represent the Tahoe music scene,” McAlindin said.
Lost Whiskey Engine deploys a wide range of influences, from traditional bluegrass and Celtic strains to more modern, jam-driven, Newgrass sounds.
“We write our own material, as well, so I’d say that’s more in the progressive, Newgrass, rock, almost vein,” McAlindin said. “Kind of like Railroad Earth, Yonder (Mountain String Band), those kind of bands are big influences on us.”
Sean primarily sings lead vocals, with Conor taking over on some tunes and Melvin joining in for two- and three-part harmonies. The band also has been honing its picking chops, a key asset to success on the festival circuit.
“We do a few instrumentals in our set where we pass the lead around and we play it really fast,” McAlindin said. “Everyone can shred. I don’t want to brag, but I think that we’re at the point where we’re a professional bluegrass band, and we want people to take us seriously.”
Some combination of the group can be found on the first and third Mondays of each month, when Sean hosts the Community Bluegrass Old Time Jam at Alibi in Truckee. The event is from 6 to 9 p.m. and is open to acoustic instruments and modest percussion.
“It’s sort of in the ‘hardly strictly bluegrass’ vein,” McAlindin said. “We’re not very strict about what we play, but we try to stick to the traditionals as much as we can. Just cause it’s fun for everyone to learn those and teach each other songs.”
– Josh Sweigert