Tahoe hosts Lake Tahoe Winter Reggae, WinterWonderGrass festivals

False Rhythms | Pheonix Gruneich

Lake Tahoe Winter Reggae Festival | Feb. 17-18 | Stateline, Nev.
WinterWonderGrass | April 5-7 | Olympic Valley

There are many aspects of the Tahoe Sierra that are truly special. Too many to name, really. But one feature that is truly exceptional is the live music scene.

For what is essentially a smattering of small towns scattered throughout the mountains, there is not only an incomparable cast of local musicians, but world-class, nationally touring acts who perform here regularly. I’ve seen most of my favorite artists up close and personal at small venues like the Crown Room in Crystal Bay or South Shore Room in Stateline, Nev.

And if you put together an outstanding band here, chances are you’ll have the opportunity to open up, play a late-night show and eventually share the stage with your heroes.

Another thing. In most places, music festivals are reserved for summer months. Not here.

One of the best times to get down is smackdab in the heart of ski season. Last year at WinterWonderGrass, a few thousand hearty souls danced in a full-on blizzard as Trampled by Turtles of Duluth, Minn., closed down Sunday night. Now, that’s something I’ve only experienced in Tahoe.

This winter season, two top-flight music festivals will snow down by golden shores and iconic chairlifts: Lake Tahoe Winter Reggae Festival and WinterWonderGrass.

Reggae sunshine all year

For what’s sure to be a high time in the mountains, the first winter version of the Lake Tahoe Winter Reggae Festival will be held at Tahoe Blue Event Center in Stateline, Nev,. on Feb. 17 and 18 uniting Jamaican reggae royals Damien and Stephen Marley, SoCal dub-folkie Stick Figure and Bermudian island bopper Collie Buddz.

“We all have so many problems,” says Buddz, whose 2023 album is called “Take It Easy.” “It’s OK to relax for a minute and chill out. Don’t take anything too serious, but also be conscious and aware of this world we live in.”

Superstars will be supported by regional acts including Washoe desert reggae group False Rhythms and South Shore’s Miki Rae & The Hooligans.

False Rhythms formed at the Dresslerville Community in Gardnerville, Nev., in 2012. After making their bones at DIY Carson City venues like A to Zen thrift store and Wink’s Silver Strike Lanes, they’ve progressed to major festivals throughout Northern California. The 5,000-person arena at Tahoe Blue Event Center will be their biggest gig yet.

“We’re a lot heavier than most reggae bands,” says guitarist Dalton Moore. “We’re Metallica’s version of reggae. We sing about our heritage, tribal love and what Native Americans have gone through. It’s about knowing where you come from.”

Homegrown roots rocker Miki Rae will open the festival on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s truly an honor,” she says. “For all of us in the band, music in not only our hobby, but what we are most passionate about. It gives us joy. We believe that music is magic, so having the opportunity to share the stage with these musicians we look up to is a blessing.” | laketahoereggaefest.com

Bluegrass in the snow

From April 5 to 7, WinterWonderGrass will host its eighth annual festival at Palisades Tahoe since 2015. This year’s lineup features many acts we haven’t seen before with headliners including East Texas indie rocker Paul Cauthen and West Virginia folk singer Sierra Ferrell. The stacked bill is rounded out by longtime favorites Lindsay Lou, Devil Makes Three, Infamous Stringdusters, Lil’ Smokies and Kitchen Dwellers alongside regional high-flyers like Diggin Dirt, Two Runner and Caltucky.

Traditional bluegrass supergroup Mighty Poplar met in a bubble in 2020 to record their self-titled debut that was nominated for Best Bluegrass Album at the 2024 Grammy Awards. Guitarist Chris Eldridge grew up in Fredericksburg, Va., the son of a well-known banjo player in The Seldom Scene.

“Bluegrass is a core part of where I come from,” he says. “There was this experience I had from a young age of being around people making music at a very high level. They were like aunts and uncles to me. It seemed like a natural thing.”

Eldridge got his nickname, “Critter,” from his parents, but it became official when flatpicking legend Tony Rice started using it, too. Mighty Poplar, in which members of Punch Brothers, Leftover Salmon, Billy Strings and Watchhouse revive oft-forgotten bluegrass classics, began as an impromptu, late-night festival jam.

“It’s about a particular alchemy when you get certain people in the room,” says Eldridge. “It’s really joyful and playful, but it also feels very grounded.”

Another new artist arriving at the Tahoe festival is mandolinist Sierra Hull. A creative virtuoso originally from Byrdstown, Tenn., Hull grew up playing bluegrass jams on the Kentucky state line and graced the stage of the Grand Ole Opry by age 10.

“I fell in love with the music, but it’s the community that made me stay,” she says. “I became friends with the local musicians I grew up playing with, even if they were three or four times my age. I’m proud to sit in a circle of musicians – it’s a really beautiful thing. We mentor younger musicians and give back, and I’ve always loved that.”

When luminaries like Hull hit their last notes on the WinterWonderGrass main stage, three side tents will ignite with beer gardens and rising local acts like Grass Valley’s Broken Compass Bluegrass.

“It’s such a wonderful opportunity and it means so much to us,” says mandolinist Kyle Ledson. “We have huge gratitude to festivals that give smaller bands like us these opportunities.” | | winterwondergrass.com