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Friday, Nov. 16, free, 8 p.m., High Sierra Brewing Company, 302 N. Carson St., Carson City, (775) 884-2739
Saturday, Nov. 24, free, 8 p.m., Last Waltz Party with Hellbound Glory, The Casual Dogs & The Mark Sexton Band, Crystal Bay Club’s Crown Room, Crystal Bay, (775) 833-6333, crystalbayclubcasino.com
Friday, Dec. 14 & 15, free, 9 p.m., opening Harrah’s new Reno Stage at The Zone, 219 N. Center St., Reno, (775) 786-3232
Call it serendipity, the way you find what you’re looking for when you’re least looking for it. The philosopher Carl Jung called it synchronicity, the universe bringing together people who are supposed to meet, as if by chance, at precisely the right moment.
Whatever you call it, sheer chance has brought together some amazing chemistry in Jelly Bread, an unlikely foursome that promises to be one of the hottest new sounds to come out of Reno-Tahoe this year.
I met these guys last fall at the Strawberry Music Festival outside Yosemite, where they played the Meadow Stage with a guest horn section to an afternoon crowd that couldn’t stay in their seats. The funk beat set by drummer Cliff Porter and reinforced by his uncle Brady Carthen on bass, both of Reno, is shaped by a Gospel tradition that lends a soulful depth and range to the music.
The audience boogied through the encore under the hot Sierra sun and crawled out of their tents the next morning to attend Jelly Bread’s “workshop.” At Strawberry, the workshops usually attract between 25 to 50 people to practice chords, learn a little harmonic convergence, and chat with the musicians.
But at 10 a.m., after a long night of partying, Jelly Bread drew a crowd of hundreds — some of them hung over, many of them standing (because all the seats were full), and no one particularly interested in working on their own music. They just wanted to hear some more Jelly Bread. When the facilitator asked for questions from the workshop crowd, the crowd just hollered for more.
So that’s what Jelly Bread dealt up — swampy blues with songs like “Laid Out,” which, if the audience sat still to listen long enough, is a dark-edged tune about revenge reminiscent of the story lyricism from older bluesy bands like Treat Her Right. Dave Berry’s lap steel screams so sweet you almost don’t hear the lyrics, but if you listen hard, you’ve got a man tied up with a sock in his mouth who clearly ended up “face down” on a lawn “where he don’t belong.”
And it didn’t end there. The band retreated for a photo shoot with Porter beating on an empty jug of Sun laundry detergent, Eric Matlock of Truckee playing a washboard, and Carthen faking it with a broom until someone in the audience that had migrated from the workshop yelled, “Get the guy a bass!” The bass appeared, and the music continued for another hour.
“We just feel blessed,” said Berry (lead vocals and guitar), adding that the band has been invited back to Strawberry for the Memorial Day weekend show next spring. A horns section graced last year’s show, but there’s no guarantee on that, said Berry.
“We had some friends from L.A. record horns on our CD. We have them play with us when possible,” he said. “But it’s hard to find and afford a section around here that isn’t already in one or two other bands. We feel it’s a nice addition, but don’t really have a solid ‘section’ of our own. If we can get to the point of steady shows/festivals and making a living, we’d love to have horns full time, but right now it’s just here and there.”
Most members of the band, surprisingly, have no formal music training.
“I just picked up a guitar in college and locked myself in my room for awhile till I had figured it out enough to start writing songs,” Berry said. “Just learned by ear. Cliff and Brady grew up playing together in church. They both just learned on the job, too. None of us read music or ever took lessons.”
Berry and Porter knew each other growing up in Reno, but they lost touch when Berry moved away. It was pure chance that brought them together sometime after Berry moved back to Reno in 2008.
“When I came back, his dad saw me playing solo at a restaurant with a drum set on stage behind me,” Berry said. “His dad called him and told him to get down there, said ‘There’s a guy playing and an empty drum set.’ The next night, he and I got together at his brother’s barbershop to work on some tunes, he called his uncle Brady (bass), and we played our first JB show two days later.”
Six months ago, they hooked up with keyboard player Matlock from Truckee, and that rounded out the perfect pitch, Berry said.
With multiple shows around Tahoe, including several at the Crystal Bay Club in recent months, according to many fans, Jelly Bread’s trajectory looks to be a lot like that of the Dead Winter Carpenters, a local band that made it big. Jelly Bread is working with the same management as Dead Winter Carpenters, and they just bought the band’s old trailer and van.
Is it a fair comparison? “Honestly, I don’t know a lot about DWC and where they’ve come from. I mean it’s impossible not to know what they’re doing these days, setting the bar for area bands, but we’re kind of different animals,” said Berry. “I think the most common thing we have is the fact that we’re hard-working bands willing to do the grind and the road work, sleeping on couches and floors and not making much money, the work that a lot of bands aren’t willing to do to get the music out there.”
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