Nomadic Sierra Gypsies settle on a stage at Tahoe Ale WorX

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

The Sierra Gypsies can be found onstage at Tahoe Ale WorX. They are, from left, Dylan Long, Jeff Schwarz, Dave Alexander, Jennifer Pleval, Brian Garrett, Wally Johnson and Randy Striplin.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Like any nomads worth their salt, the Sierra Gypsies are on the move.

In just its second year of existence, the South Shore band is broadening its horizons and staking new ground, most recently at the Lake Tahoe AleWorX in South Lake Tahoe.

“We’re known for having a good time,” lead vocalist Jen Plevel said.

“It’s very rock bluesy, but the music is a mix of classic rock and a little bit of Americana,” co-lead singer and guitarist Brian Garrett said. “We do some Devil Makes Three and some Old Crow Medicine Show.”

Sierra Gypsies first came together out of the Rock Ensemble course at Lake Tahoe Community College in the winter 2015 when Plevel and Garrett met as classmates. Garrett had sung in church choirs as a boy, and picked up the guitar as a teenager, but did not attempt to seriously pair voice and instrument until 2014, when he began to attend open-mic events around South Shore. Plevel had more than a decade of experience with jazz vocals, including study at Jazzschool in Berkeley and a number of Bay Area institutions.

The two hit it off and began performing casually as a duo.

“We were doing open mics just to have some fun. We weren’t really thinking about starting a band,” Garrett said.

The idea truly took flight on a winter day in 2016. Garrett had noticed a deal advertised at Homewood Ski Resort for steeply discounted lift tickets, so the couple packed up their ski gear and set off for a day on the slopes.

Upon arrival on the West Shore, Garrett and Plevel learned that the price break had only been available via tickets purchased online earlier in the week. Rather than pay the full price, they agreed to venture out in search of a venue with some live entertainment.

“We were on the West Shore, and we drove all the way around the lake looking for live music, but we didn’t find any live music anywhere,” Garrett said. “We were going to go to Truckee, we were going to go to Tahoe City, Incline, anywhere that had live music, but there was none. And this was a Saturday, a super nice day in March, a beautiful bluebird Saturday.”

After completing a fruitless circumnavigation, Plevel and Garrett arrived back in South Shore, and stopped in at California Burger, where co-owner Ted Kennedy was playing guitar. Kennedy offered the stage to the crowd for a few songs, and Plevel and Garrett jumped right in. The two secured a Tuesday night gig at the venue shortly thereafter, and the Sierra Gypsies were born.

Tahoe Onstage

Jen Plevel and Brian Garrett didn’t have to pull too many strings to get a gig.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Sierra Gypsies has a varying cast and crew, all hailing from LTCC’s Rock Ensemble class. The two primary members usually appear together, supported by some combination of Dylan Long (guitar), Jeff Schwarz (keys), Randy Stripland (guitar), Mike Lefavre (guitar), Wally Johnson (bass), and David Alexander (drums).

“We kind of named the band before we knew it would have so many people coming in and out of it, but it worked out well,” Plevel said with a chuckle.

When the Gypsies are out in force, you’ll hear a rock-blues approach, spanning a wide variety of cover tunes, including jazz standards, classic rock, and folk and newgrass tunes. When it’s just Plevel and Garrett (and perhaps one other member) however, they favor a more mellow approach.

“Then we do try to do more of the folky, Americana,” Plevel said. “Or even making some of the jazz songs or the classic rock songs much more acoustic with just the ukulele and the guitar.”

Sierra Gypsies are featured regularly at California Burger Co. and Azul Latin Kitchen in the Heavenly Village, Revive Coffee House, and the beer garden at Base Camp Hotel. The group also will appear at Sample the Sierra at Bijou Community Park in September.

For now, the Gypsies are looking forward to appearances at AleWorX, a new venue on the west end of South Shore featuring an extensive taplist of pour-as-you-go brews and a variety of appetizers, pizzas and salads.

“The stage is phenomenal, it’s very large,” Garrett said “The setting is really cool. Between the two buildings is a large patio area where they’ve developed a fire pit, rocking chairs, with the forest as a backdrop.”

“It’s like a bunch of reclaimed materials, it’s gorgeous,” Plevel said. “Just a fun setting.”

-Josh Sweigert

  • If you go
    Who: Sierra Gypsies
    When: 6:30 to 10 p.m. Monday, Sept. 4, and Thursday, Sept. 7
    Where: Tahoe Ale WorX, South Lake Tahoe

About Josh Sweigert

Josh grew up on the California coast with a deep appreciation for bluegrass and string band music as well as the great outdoors. A guitarist and singer, he plays solo acoustic gigs in South Lake Tahoe.

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