Rising Appalachia Bring Their Bluegrass Voodoo to Lake Tahoe
Over on the North Shore, the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, old casinos crop up beside the lake. This is where you'll find the Crystal Bay Casino, a holdover from an era when Rat Packers and their imitators played the smoky alpine lounges before filling their thermoses with martinis and hopping into their Chris Crafts for some drunken water skiing.
Crystal Bay is a small casino with modern appointments like video poker machines built into the bar, but the ghosts of that old Tahoe remain. The club's stage still rests a couple hundred feet from the bar, deep booths ringing the walls and exposed wooden beams stretching overhead. Smoke, conversations and the bleeps and bloops of video gaming fill the air. The hopeful and the bloodshot slouch over the bar's poker machines.
And then a strange thing happens. Around 8:30PM Saturday night (Sept. 27), beards, ponytails and dreadlocks begin to outnumber the locals who have set up shop upon their favorite bar stools. Little Crystal Bay, Nevada, has doubled its 300 population for the evening with magical busloads of modern day hippies. They aren't here to stuff coins into gaming machines and drink watery cocktails, but rather for two much better reasons: Leah and Chloe Smith, known collectively as Rising Appalachia.
The sisters have brought their unique blend of folk, bluegrass, funk, jazz and hip-hop to the west coast for the first time in Rising Appalachia's 10 year history, but they aren't playing to a roomful of strangers. The band enjoys a loyal following online, with songs from their latest release, 'Filthy Dirty South,' racking up respectable numbers on Spotify. The gathered crowd is more than familiar with the band's music.
Set opener 'Mississippi Blues' makes clear why the house is packed with converts, harmonies and finger snaps spinning around the casino din like some kind of spell. Conjuring is very much a subtext: From the rocks and crystals at Leah's feet to the shells hanging from Chloe's ears, there's juju all around. Even the merch table offers herbs, amulets and various handcrafted items.
The magic works, too. Throughout the venue audience members lose themselves in that familiar, blissed out hippie dance, eyes closed, arms waving and bodies swaying: religious ecstasy 50 feet from the loosest slots in town. "Religious" seems an appropriate description for gospel-twinged cuts like 'You Don't Miss Your Water Till Your Well Runs Dry,' a track that Leah introduces via a story of their post-Katrina years in New Orleans.
The evening isn't just a showcase for the sisters' amazing harmonies. Accompanied by conga and double bass, Rising Appalachia are a proper four piece band -- whatever that means. In truth, they're all so damned multi-instrumental that calling them a four piece is a huge disservice to the band's enormous talents.
Leah cycles through guitar, banjo and drums in the course of the evening, and Chloe's violin work is exceptional. Before the end of the night, rain stick, Celtic drum, violin, banjo, congas, tambourine, double bass and guitar all make contributions. So does slam poet and show opener Theresa Davis, who joins the band for a breakdown in the middle of 'Oh Death' that's more Gil Scott-Heron than Appalachian blues.
Rising Appalachia's West Coast tour ends mid-October, then it's back to their home base in the southeast. You may not get the strange juxtaposition of bleary gamblers and blissed out hippies, but you'll get some amazing music. Don't miss them. In the meantime, check out our exclusive shots from the show below:
Rising Appalachia -- Lake Tahoe's Crystal Bay Club
Rising Appalachia -- Setlist, Sept. 27, 2014
'Fall On My Knees'
'All Fence and No Doors'
'Honey Baby Blues'
'You Don't Miss Your Water Till Your Well Runs Dry'
'Closer to the Edge'
'Tiny Fish Lungs'
'Fly Around My Pretty Lil' Miss'
'Zavedi Me Lalino'
'Take Me Downtown'
'Pretty Lil' Foot' / 'Trouble in Mind'
'El Cuarto de Tula'