Hearkening songs about the Reno Entertainment Scene
By Oliver X
Looking for Reno entertainment as we begin to move past the pandemic? Let Getaway Reno Tahoe’s contributing writer, Oliver X, get you up-to-date on some of the local entertainment you can look forward to.
Reno Entertainment: A Look Behind to Look Ahead
Reno has always been bigger than its britches. That likely has something to do with the spirit of the west that is in the dust, air and sage. The possibilities held in endless vistas; the hope of striking it rich and staking your claim to the American dream.
Perhaps because Reno’s nickname as the “Biggest Little City in the World” was earned against the backdrop of weekend Rat Pack getaways with Sammy, Frank and Dean, and glamorous starlets getting quickie divorces in a city whose vices were made legal long before the sins of its sister city to the south rose from the dust, painted in pink neon.
But I suggest that there’s another reason that Reno ascended in our collective imaginations: Reno is an idea that never asked for permission. An idea bigger than the desert sky. A city stem cell, ever searching for its soul, ever on the verge of becoming something grand.
In so being, Reno embodies the spirit of the rebel seeker, attracting artists, actors and outlaws, tech moguls, cowboys, fortune hunters and adventurers — it’s even inspired some of the most gifted musicians in the world to contemplate the city in song.
Reno on their minds
I remember being flabbergasted when Reno serial entrepreneur Scott Dunseath, owner of the popular Home Means Nevada Co. stores (formerly Reno eNVy), played me his compilation of an entire playlist of songs that referenced Reno.
…Reno embodies the spirit of the rebel seeker, attracting artists, actors and outlaws, tech moguls, cowboys, fortune hunters and adventurers — it’s even inspired some of the most gifted musicians in the world to contemplate the city in song.
The song titles and tracks numbered in the dozens, representing nearly every genre from country to art rock and everything in between.
The legendary Johnny Cash immortalized Reno lore in one of his most famous and enduring hit songs, 1968’s “Folsom Prison Blues:”
“When I was just a baby, my mama told me
Son, always be a good boy, don’t never play with guns.
But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
When I hear that whistle blowin’, I hang my head and cry.”
On his 13th studio album, 2005’s “Devils & Dust,” The Boss penned the haunting tome “Reno” about a lady of the night from the BLC.
Springsteen’s narrator sings in a world-weary, western-inflected drawl that sounds like it could be owned by a lonely miner seeking simple comfort from a warm companion, who becomes his redeemer for one night.
Rock wunderkind Beck Hanson’s biggest hit dropped a reference to Reno in his mega-platinum selling slacker anthem “Loser:”
“Kill the headlight and put it neutral
Stock car flamin’ with a loser in the cruise control
Baby’s in Reno with the Vitamin D
Got a couple of couches, sleep on the love seat.”
Rock n Roll Hall of Famers R.E.M. have a popular, deep album cut that is a fan favorite titled “All the Way to Reno.” Mixing spaghetti western twang, descending guitar chords and shoe-gazer rock, the track aptly conveys themes of high desert dreams:
All the way to Reno
You’ve dusted the laws of chance.”
The bridge refrain is also the minor hook:
“You know what you are
You’re gonna be a star…”
Homegrown and Resilient
With so many references to Reno entertainment by major artists over the years, it’s little wonder that the region’s thriving homegrown music scene swelled to produce breakout artists of all kinds over several decades.
Artists as disparate as punk rockers 7 Seconds; low woodwind phenom and UNR alum Dr. Brian Landrus; classic rock stars The Greg Golden Band; electric violinist Tim Snider; and, multi-instrumentalists Whitney Myer and Grace Hayes, who found fame with stints on “The Voice” and “American Idol,” respectively — to name just a few.
When the pandemic struck in 2020, it put a screeching halt to nearly all local live performance opportunities, as venues closed and artist’s gigs dried up due to COVID-19 related health restrictions.
Add to that the impact of racial unrest and socio-political upheavals, and many musicians found themselves out of work facing uncertain futures.
Instead of collapsing, Reno’s music community pulled together to collaborate on a special project that made national news.
Inspired by the nationwide City Songs project launched by Louisville Kentucky Mayor Greg Fischer, Mayor Hillary Schieve spearheaded Reno’s involvement through then city Special Events Manager Alexis Hill, who enlisted the help of the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra, Artown, singer-songwriter Eric Andersen and filmmaker Bryon Evans.
Together they produced “Heartbeat to Heartbeat Eye to Eye (From Reno with Love).” This powerful song and video message of hope and unity showcases the talents of 53 of Reno’s finest musicians and has earned 25,000 views on YouTube so far.
“This amazing song and video show that, even though our lives have changed dramatically … our arts and culture scene is still very much alive in Reno,” Schieve said.
Northern Nevada musicians persevered through the pandemic and found ways to earn a living using technology. Eric Andersen hosted live stream concerts and made money from viewer donations using an electronic tip jar.
Other artists followed suit, some shifting to teaching music classes via Zoom. Venues with long lead calendars postponed and rescheduled large portions of their live programming.
But theaters like the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts pivoted by hosting virtual concerts with popular organizations like the Reno Phil and their spring 2021 event, Serenade for Strings.
The good news is with increased vaccinations and decreasing infection rates, venues are beginning to open back up.
Wild River Grille owner Chuck Shapiro welcomes the return of his popular Summer Dinner Concert Series featuring favorites Tyler Stafford, Milton Merlos, Colin Ross, Eric Andersen, Joel Ackerson and many more. “We’ll have live music most nights of the week,” Shapiro says.
In Lake Tahoe, there’s a true feeling of optimism and excitement for the return of live music. Montbleu Resort, Casino and Spa in Stateline has a spring and summer lineup of stellar national touring artists and live entertainment, with headliners Tech N9NE, George Thorogood, and the Destroyers and Boz Scaggs.
Music fans can check their favorite music venues’ and homegrown artists’ music sites and social media pages for live event announcements this spring and summer.
The Tahoe concert and event promoters I spoke to like Paul Reder and Dreu Murin, said that they have big plans to welcome back live audiences and the talented musicians that make our local scene exciting and vibrant.
So, get back out there and help keep live music keep going strong in Reno-Tahoe!
Eric Andersen and the musicians of “Heartbeat to Heartbeat, Eye to Eye (From Reno with Love)” with The Note-ables July 2, 2021 at Artown’s Rancho San Rafael Regional Park Mainstage. Ticket information at Artown.
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Disclaimer: Getaway Reno/Tahoe supports social distancing and safe practices promoting the health of our community. Due to the COVID-19 health crisis, digital and print content is updated to the best of our knowledge. Please keep in mind, many photos featured in our publication and online platform were taken before the pandemic and may not reflect current conditions. As you navigate your Reno/Tahoe adventure, be sure to visit the corresponding event URL or business page to check cancellations, closings, or postponements. Stay safe, stay healthy. Thank you.