Sittin’ on dock of the lake, hoping pandemic rolls away

Kelly Bentson and Robbie Gade play live online on Lake Tahoe.

Third in a series about music in the time of Covid-19.

Robbie Gade sat in front of an iPad holding his guitar like a security blanket. The guitar had a beautiful wood-grain body, mother-of-pearl pickguard and one curly wave cutout called an “F hole.” He declared, “this is the coolest guitar.”

One of the first things he revealed proved he was a renegade: “My dad wouldn’t let me take my guitar to college. Within two weeks, I was the lead singer in the best band.”

Can you talk about what music does for you?

“Never miss a day. Every day I play at least two or three hours. I need to learn every song. It’s kind of OCD where I have to wake up and play my guitar.”

Has music always been your career?

“That’s it. Never had a job.”

Gade did have a job, but it didn’t feel like one to him. He started Renegade Productions about 1991. “I did about 15 maybe 16 festivals.” He booked artists such as Brandi Carlile, Jackie Greene, Sonia Dada, Junior Wells, Coco Montoya, Maceo Parker and Dick Dale. Booking them in “Reno, Tahoe, Quincy, Nevada City, Chico, Grass Valley, Ashland, Eureka, Redding, Eugene, Sacramento, San Francisco.

“I was a maniac, doing 250 shows a year promoting.”

After Creedence Clearwater Revival split up, Gade played with drummer   Doug Clifford for more than a decade, just prior to Creedence Clearwater Revisited. He says he knows every guitar rifft that John Fogerty played live.

Until the Covid-19 pandemic, Gade had been playing four or five nights a week around the north shore of Lake Tahoe.

What are you doing day-to-day now that you’re not playing live?

“I go on YouTube and learn a new song every day.” He starts playing and singing David Lee Roth, “I Ain’t Got Nobody” the song he learned that morning.

Gade has been posting videos of himself and Kelly Bentson playing on a Lake Tahoe dock. They’ve been playing there every day when the sun is out and it’s not too windy. On other days, Gade posts instructional videos to show little tricks he’s taught himself or plays one of the songs he just learned.

Gade sent Benston a meeting notification to join us on the video conference. He isn’t missing the income from the gigs they were playing together, but Bentson quit her job as a seamstress at Squaw Valley so she could dedicate all of her time to playing music. She needs that income.

Bentson was raised with music of a nonsecular nature and when she joined us online she shared her musical family history: “My great grandmother was a music teacher and a harmony teacher. My grandfather and his brother performed violin, vocals and piano, so since I was 5 years old I sang in church. I was in all the audition choirs and sang at funerals and weddings, I didn’t know any secular music until I came here.”

Bentson moved to Lake Tahoe about 1992.

“I didn’t know Mick Jagger sang for the Rolling Stones until that year,” she said.” My first gig we opened for Pablo Cruise at PlumpJack Café. I went to Santana in the late ‘90s and I didn’t even know who he was.”

Certified as a K-8 teacher and a music teacher in Alaska, Bentson was limited as to the teaching she could do in Tahoe. She “worked cooking and kind of offgrid and always ended up playing music. That’s really not the main source (of income), but it’s part of the environment that’s created.”

Bentson exclaimed: “Oh my gosh, there’s the Chicory property. The first cabin that was built there in 1870 was by Mark Hopkins and we put together a little music night in this old log cabin — just banjos and stand-up bass — and played music all night.”

How did you meet Gade?

“I had a gig at Cottonwood with Jeff Engerbretson and when I finished it I wanted to hear more music so I went to the bar at Gar Woods.

“I love slide! He’s sitting on the stool barefoot playing slide and I don’t know who he is. I’m like. ‘Who is this person?’ ”

Longtime Tahoe musician Cowboy Steve had let Gade sit in at Gar Woods that night and when they were breaking down Bentson went to meet him.

Bentson started using her hands, talking faster and getting more animated as she told the story, “Cowboy Steve comes over and he’s like, ‘Do you know Kelly? She’s a musician. Do you know Kelly? This is Renegade, this is Renegade Productions.’

“It was like he was try to say, ‘this is important, it’s really important who you’re going to meet right now,’ and that’s when Robbie said, ‘Turn that PA back on. You’re going to sing something.’ It was very cool.”

Bentson has been in the Tahoe music scene for nearly 30 years and Gade even longer. It took until about one and one-half years ago for Bentson and Gade to cross paths.

Before the “Stay at Home” executive orders they were playing three or four nights a week together and Bentson had her other gigs at Martis Camp and Bistro 22.

“Robbie is the zen of music,” she said. “It’s all inside of him. He has changed my life. He has so much knowledge and the ability to impart it to someone who’s ready, and I was ready.”

Bentson was full in when Covid-19 surfaced and she’s taking it all in stride.

“It’s sort of our job to play music and hopefully make other people feel better. It’s a gift that we both have. I usually play at Marty’s Café (in Truckee) on Sundays in the summer so I went and played outside Marty’s while he was doing take-out, just for the fun of it. Marty gave me some breakfast. People were waving and it’s part of the new thing right now.

“People are being more understanding of each other,” she said.

The next nice day, Gade and Kelly went live on Facebook from the dock for the first time. They took requests and connected with the fans that they’d been playing for at Caliente, Gar Woods Grill & Pier and Mourelatos and have done two more live-streaming shows since.

On April 15, Gade posted Guitar Lesson No. 79 — “The secret for playing ‘Proud Mary’ ” — from his deck at home: “Music’s kinda my security blanket. It always has been.”

Michelle Gartner

Robbie Gade started a self-isolation video series on his Facebook page.

Related stories:
Pandemic sends folk singer Darren Senn to new frontiers
-When Tahoe musicians go online instead of onstage

ABOUT Michelle Gartner

Michelle Gartner
Michelle Gartner was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago where she discovered her love for blues and roots rock. After riding the wave of the digital revolution in motion picture film postproduction, she began pursuing the written word. She relocated to the northern Sierra more than 20 years ago and began writing about her passions.

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