This story originally had a hard stop when Covid reared its ugly spike-protein head. The Rev. Rusty Reams, founder and ringmaster of The Great Bingo Revival, approached Moonshine Ink in the fall of 2019 and said he wanted to host a fundraiser for us. A date was set, we prepped for months, collected (sur)prizes, and readied our bingo daubers. A night of shenanigans and Inky love was eagerly anticipated.
Then the murmurings of Covid washed over the country, growing louder and louder, until we made the hard call to cancel the event. The day after the event was to happen, March 19, 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the mandatary stay-at-home order. The world of events went dark.
Who better to usher us back to the light than a devoted reverend? As the fiery, red-haired Rev. Rusty told me, “A reverend is a cultural beacon in the community. He reflects the community. He doesn’t lead it. He speaks to it, represents it.”
And for this bingo evangelist, a vital part of his mission is to preserve what he calls our “funky mountain culture,” a cause for inspiration everywhere.
“Just take a picture of me. I’m already like semi-cartoon. I’m a character. When you go to mountain towns, you like see people like me, people out there who have figured out their niche. They figured out this weird way of living in this champagne world and doing it on a cheaper budget; you know, a PBR budget,” Rusty said. “And when out-of-towners come to town, they want to meet these characters. They want to meet ’em, hear their story because they’re so outta their box. You know, people are flying in from Ohio, Michigan, driving over Sacramento, and they’re boxed in by their life and their lifestyle and they come to the mountain town to meet people who are living independently, living freely, living wildly.”
The Great Bingo Revival is a for-hire affair, “fusing together music, comedy, dance, and improv with 100% pure B.I.N.G.O.,” that has graced events from “parties for a 7-year-old birthday to those that go ‘til 7 a.m.,” Rusty said. But he also makes time to support the people and organizations he sees as instrumental to our community.
“I love being recognized, big fish, small pond. I love all that stuff,” he said. “And there’s so many fishes in our pond who are in the Tahoe/Truckee community that I wanna share that spotlight with — those people who hustle and do epic community things.”
When Rusty and I did the interview for this piece, he didn’t even let me ask the first question before he launched into his “why” for this Moonshine fundraiser.
“The way you write and what you write about — like the J-1 story you just wrote about — these are the real stories. It’s, not like, hey, by the way, um, there, this dude’s playing a guitar at this place. You do deep dives into the community and every story you guys produce is hella relatable to the Tahoe experience,” he said. “Your finger is still on the pulse. And I am so beyond stoked to help celebrate you and support you.”
Rusty said the whole idea was sparked when we started our membership program in November 2019, and he considered the essay I wrote to go along with the launch. “You said, ‘We need money. This thing doesn’t pay, and you know the world costs money.’ And I read it,” he said. “And at the same time, John Oliver did this thing about independent newspapers and conglomerated media. Independent media matters and I want to contribute to what you’re doing.”
While our medium is media, Rusty’s is bingo and under his tutelage, this is more, way more, than grandma’s game.
“Bingo isn’t a game. It’s a lifestyle,” Rusty told me. What happened to spark this revolution? Back when he was a barista/waiter, he showed up in Eugene, Oregon, and ended up at a bingo game on a Monday to a packed venue.
“I loved the vibe then … I won! I get up on stage and get greeted by the host and they say ‘What’s your name? Where are you from?’ And I go, ‘Yo, bro, it’s my birthday.’ And I had the entire bar — in this town that I’d never been to — sing me happy birthday.”
The stars had aligned and a calling was put forth. Rusty came back to Tahoe after doing “a walkabout and realizing nowhere is better than Tahoe.” He was working at the Everline Resort (formerly Resort at Squaw Creek), which hosted conferences for Google staff. Rusty realized these “nerds don’t know how to party. When the DJ would start, they would run.” He pondered, “How do I make a DJ party for programmers? How do I get that money?” and he figured, “Yo, that bingo game, let me wild it out.”
He got hired by Google, “made bank,” and Google loved it, hiring him back again. This was in 2012, a significant milestone Rusty says, because the Mayan calendar had ended and the world was ready for a revolution.
This iteration of bingo is reminiscent of a 1970s game show, says its website, harkening back to an “era of wide bottom pants, big hair and funky dance moves.” Rusty gives props to Pass It On Thrift store for providing the event’s early renditions with free prizes. For his captivating stage persona, he credits Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon, Parliament-Funkadelic’s George Clinton, and “the legendary voice of the valley and microphone maestro John Haines.”
The Revival had arisen, and because “Tahoe is a platform for the world,” this singular exceptional event has traveled all over California and the world. Other big tech companies hired it for their company retreats, preeminent festivals such as Dirtybird Campout, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Lightning in a Bottle put Rusty in the lineup, and when I spoke with him, he was headed back to Summit at Sea, a floating conference in international waters in partnership with Richard Branson’s Virgin Voyages, with past speakers such as Jeff Bezos, Brené Brown, Ram Dass, and Al Gore.
On his travels to the cruise port of Miami, Florida, Rusty decided to make a stop in Medellin, Columbia. He chanced into hanging out with a group of people and met a guy who had come to Tahoe four years ago. The new friend told him it was a birthday trip, with awesome skiing and a wild bingo game.
“He goes, ‘You kind of look like the dude. Let me bring up a picture.’ And he brings up a video of me doing my thing from four years ago … And he goes, ‘Are you the dude?’ I’m like, ‘Yo, I’m the dude. You know, I’m Mr. Bingo.’”
It seems while there is no telling what a Great Bingo Revival night will look like, it is guaranteed to be memorable. Rusty said, “I keep it undefined. Every time I do it, it’s redefined.” He’s never done much marketing because he wants it to be the kind of event where, “If you know, you know.” The one thing you can count on for the Moonshine event is that he’s dedicated to an “upward lift for this entire mountain community.”
The seated capacity at Alibi Ale Works is 105 people. What say you, Moonshine Members and dedicated readers, let’s fill Alibi to the rafters, make some noise, win some prizes, and further the mission of independent media for Truckee/North Lake Tahoe.
“Thanks for keeping this community stoked, informed, educated,” Rusty said, “and I can’t wait to celebrate you.”
What: The Great Bingo Revival, Moonshine fundraiser
When: Wednesday, June 28 at 6 p.m.
Where: Alibi Ale Works, 10069 Bridge St., Truckee
dress code: Funky Mountain Style — prizes for best dressed