Like the snow finally touching down after weeks, we’ve been waiting for this. It’s the jam session we’ve been hoping for since Covid made indoor winter live music performances difficult or impossible. Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra, Royal Jelly Jive, and Rainbow Girls, three bands near and dear to Tahoe/Truckee hearts, are performing together live this Sunday, Feb. 20 at the Crystal Bay Casino. In addition to being a full billing, it also reunites long-time collaborators.
“Marty O’Reilly is our sister band, and Rainbow Girls are our brother band (that’s what we decided together, don’t ask why),” explained Jesse Lemme Adams of Royal Jelly Jive to Moonshine Ink in an email. “We all came up in the Bay Area music scene at the same time and there are so many shared experiences that have bonded us together. It’s like we are all astronauts on the same spaceship. I know they’ve felt the same feelings I have hundreds of miles away in a room full of strangers. They are more than friends, they are family.”
The Ink feels lucky that the go-to North Shore venue is hosting the close-knit trio of bands, first and foremost because we, like you, have missed live music. Plus, we’ve got history with the groups, too! Check out the Marty O’Reilly Moonshine Ink Tiny Porch Concert, filmed in August 2018 on the North Shore, below. Marty sings just one song, Dreamcatcher, as sun filters through the Tahoe pines, his surreal tones weaving themselves seamlessly with his and his bandmates’ instruments.
And, in November of that same year, the Ink also filmed a Tiny Porch Concert with Rainbow Girls, our sixth installment. It’s a classic, filmed right on the porch that’s “a fine size,” according to band member Vanessa May, amid Truckee bikes and yellow fall leaves over the river flowing behind, almost as smoothly as the Girls’ blended voices.
It felt written in the stars: We had to find out how this meeting of the musical minds had come together, what it meant for the three bands, and how the musicians think collaboration, and live music and audiences, might forge forward into a post-pandemic future. The connection felt even stronger because this author has known since college at UC Santa Barbara that Rainbow Girls are master collaborators. The band has been together since they went to school there, too, and I was the lucky witness to “Bean Night” open mic nights hosted by Rainbow Girls, among other shows. It was exactly what it sounds like: a magical exchange of beans and other food and tunes, where kids planted the seeds of musical collaboration still growing years down the road.
Cut to today, and it’s in full bloom. Marty O’Reilly’s band toured for two months on the road in Europe during the summer of 2014 with Rainbow Girls, and Marty told Moonshine he estimates the bands have done at least 100 shows together. Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra and Royal Jelly Jive have also done numerous joint tours, sometimes playing as a project including both bands: “The Old Soul Orchestra and Royal Jelly combine to form Soul Jelly, which is like a 10-piece craziness,” Marty said.
He describes the music of Soul Jelly as “both dark and groovy,” involving strings, horns, and two drum sets. “It’s a pretty unforgettable experience,” he told the Ink of the project in a text message following his interview.
Back in the “earliest days” of their bands’ “life,” Marty said, “you just go on these wild adventures and play all these crazy shows, coming up with a little bit of money in your pocket.” He said that these three groups lived that phase together, playing and experimenting as young bands in that “spirit of wild collaboration.”
I caught up with members of Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra and Royal Jelly Jive; meanwhile, Rainbow Girls have been wrapping up a tour and weren’t available to check in pre-Snowdown. But never fear; Rainbow Girls band member Caitlin Gowdey shared with the Ink some “juicy tour tips that it’s taken us nine years wreaking havoc on the road and ourselves to finally figure out,” all in the name of living for music.
Caitlin’s tour tips include reasons to avoid “the temptation of the cooler” — use for drinks only unless you want to experience “a soggy mess of empty plastic bags, wet cheese, and one sad loose carrot somehow laying on the bottom” — and the equation for how to “become a sock princess,” because you wouldn’t want to be a “dirty sock thief who washes your single sock in a gas station bathroom and hangs it out the van window to dry,” she wrote. “Take the amount of days you are on tour and divide it in half. [Add] one extra pair in case you drunkenly fall in a river or misjudge a gutter puddle.”
When taking a break from playing shows on tour, you can find Rainbow Girls and their pals having “parking lot dance parties” in “the nearest street-adjacent parking lot,” she wrote, cautioning pitfalls: “Don’t play shitty music though; this will ruin it. Play good music that people want to dance to, like funk or samba. If your new friends come, and you all dance, it could start a dance avalanche and new people will join you off the street. Then you are having a great time and you have become the hang you were looking for all along.”
Let’s check in with Marty first:
Marty O’Reilly, Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra
Becca Loux: Want to introduce yourself and your band?
Marty O’Reilly: My name is Marty O’; I’m the front man for Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra. It’s a four-piece project based out of the greater San Francisco Bay Area. I play guitar and sing and there’s a fiddle player. Our music is really hard to describe. One of the most common questions you get as a musician is: What kind of music do you play? And it’s just a loaded question for us, ‘cause we like to do different things different, from song to song, from album to album, whether it’s somewhere in the Americana world and sometimes somewhere in the psych rock world and sometimes somewhere in the bluegrass world. And, you move around a lot.
BL: Describe what it feels like to play to a live audience, and how your music changes by that energy.
MO: We’re definitely a band that cares a lot about energy, energy in the room when a show happens. And sometimes that means it’s a small room. Sometimes that means it’s a big room. Sometimes that means it’s a crowded room, sometimes it doesn’t. And the main thing is, at the end of it there’s some reason why there’s magic.
We can share it with everybody else in the room, too. I love, like, a packed shoulder-to-shoulder show; but that’s not safe now. I think a big theme of, like, this journey for us has been about being adaptive, about rolling with the punches, and we even have a secret word in the band [to describe this adaptability]: hush puppies, because we were eating hush puppies when we were talking about this [and we were playing in New Orleans, that the circumstances are constantly changing as a musician, an independent one specifically.
BL: Has it been more difficult to feel that exchange of energy with audiences in Covid restricted venues?
MO: We had to take that same principle and exercise it in a completely different way. It’s still about [energy, but] these are the cards that we were dealt and what do we do with them. But, but this time it’s like, okay, we really can’t lean on making a, making this work as a band doing live shows. I mean, we found opportunities here and there, but I think at the end of the day what we, what we arrived at was that it was really a time to focus on everything besides live shows. As a band, you’re constantly in the album cycles, you’re either just finished an album, you know, you just released it, you’re writing the next one. You’re somewhere on this endless cycle of writing and creating more music. And we had just finished an album and then are powerless to be able to a tour with it, which is how you recoup that investment.
You know, the cards were like, “you just made an album now keep doing that.” [Instead,] what we chose to do was, um, keep working in post-production on the album that we just made, and like just go to town and do everything we possibly could think of and wanted to try and give ourselves permission to do. To take longer with it and to really get the mixing nailed down. And the other side of that, you know, I wrote a solo album because working together just wasn’t as much of a viable option. And it was something I’ve always wanted to do. So I’m starting recording that tonight actually …
BL: What’s something you don’t think people realize about the experience of being an independent musician during Covid restrictions?
MO: Some bands are still selling out shows and others are noticing this huge dropout, you know, it’s things like how much of your audience is in like a 40-plus demographic or 50-plus or 60-plus where there’s, you know, more underlying health concerns, stuff like that. Or, like for instance, for me, we have an unusually large spread. Most of our audience is in their late 20s and mid-30s, but we also have a lot of people that are in their 40s and their 50s and sometimes their 60s and uh, the composition of that audience by age changes geographically too.
So for instance, right now we’re like, oh, we can’t play this city. Cause all of our people, there are, you know, older, they’re not really ready to come back to shows yet. Like we tried we would notice this show where there’s usually a wide spread, all the young people showed up and all the older people didn’t, and that cut our draw on half, you know, it’s just weird. Like there’s, it’s so much more nuanced than I expected this to be, it’s more dynamic than I thought it was gonna be. I thought I was gonna, I mean, I think you all felt this way about the pandemic in general, but I thought there was a point where just kept gravitating toward back to normal and not pushing in a backwards direction. And now, you know, two years later, the best I can hope for is cautious optimism.
BL: Anything else you want to say to your fans?
MO: I just kind — I don’t normally say stuff like this — but I just kind of wanted to take a minute to acknowledge whoever’s reading along and just kind of put it out there to remind people, like, support musicians how you can right now. Yeah. Go to a show. If you feel comfortable, if you don’t feel comfortable, like, buy their album on Bandcamp or whatever … I think most industries have found some way to make things work and make sense, even if it’s like a partial recovery. So, you know, show up however you can, for the bands that you love right now. ’Cause they, they need your help. And, also we’re super excited to see you at a show later this year whenever you’re comfortable.
Jesse Lemme Adams, Royal Jelly Jive
Becca Loux: Describe the relationship between Royal Jelly Jive and your audience when you play live. What if anything changed about the energy and dynamic of your listeners since Covid hit?
Jesse Lemme Adams: Royal Jelly Jive is all about connecting with a crowd, breaking the fourth wall, literally by going into the crowd with an accordion, and figuratively by creating a fresh sound each and every night. Live improvisation is a huge part of the fun [of] the musicians and band we are in. When Covid hit, all that went away, and the best [way] we could interact with fans was through virtual shows, which was great but after a while it felt limited in the way that we couldn’t actually hear and see their reaction to the music, live.
There is just something special about being in a room with people; everything can blossom in unexpected and exciting ways. When live music finally came back, it felt like the candle was lit again, but even bigger because people had been missing live music for so long.
We feel so lucky to be able to perform for a living, and have so much gratitude for the fans that give us so much energy back. We started playing “I Will Survive” [at shows], and it’s a song that perfectly encapsulates the feeling we all share now.
BL: There’s something about live music … Many people the Ink has spoken with over the course of the pandemic have brought up live shows as a their number one longing during months with heavy regulations. What do you think it is about live, collaborative music that we crave as human beings?
JA: There is a deep primal and subconscious communication going on in a live show that just can’t be recreated in any way. The interaction between the energy of an audience and the excitement of sound will always [be] something human beings need, since the beginning of time and until all accordions are destroyed.
BL: How do you think live music will change moving forward?
JA: I hope it doesn’t change too much and things can feel like they did before the pandemic!
BL: What’s special about Winter Snowdown III at the CBC? How did the show come together? And what does it mean for these three bands that have collaborated so often to be playing there together at this time?
JA: This show came together because we needed a reason to all be together and rock! This is a big deal because it has been years since all three bands shared one bill; it’s very exciting and going to be an incredible night of music. Everybody will bring their A-game to the table. The after-party will be nuts!
BL: What’s next for Royal Jelly Jive?
JA: More shows, more albums, and more tours! Also, our singer Jaleh is releasing her first solo album. We spent the last two years making music and music videos in our home studio barn in Sonoma and now we are sending it into the world.
Winter Snowdown III will be held in the CBC’s Crown Room and is open to ages 21 and over. Currently, tickets (priced at $20) are still available for the show, but Eric Roe, CBC general manager, says they’re selling fast and he expects high attendance. Find tickets online at devildogshows.com/crystal-bay-club-casino-events/.