North Shore jam

Lake Tahoe quintet is on the road with a new show for every town

What’s in a name? With Dead Winter Carpenters, it depends on when you ask ’em.

What’s in a name? With Dead Winter Carpenters, it depends on when you ask ’em.

Photo by Ryan Salm

Dead Winter Carpenters perform Saturday, Feb. 1, 9 p.m., at Lost on Main. Low Flying Birds and Jess Braun open.
Tickets: $12 advance (at the DownLo); $15 at door.
Lost on Main
319 Main St.

When asked the question of where the band name originated, the members of North Lake Tahoe-based Americana group Dead Winter Carpenters exchanged quizzical glances before casting their eyes toward vocalist/guitarist Jesse Dunn for clarification. Dunn hesitated briefly before launching in.

“We all sort of practice amateur carpentry on our own, in different regards,” Dunn began—before switching gears into an entirely different tale. “There’re a lot of stories and folklore that surround different time periods in Tahoe. The story I like to go back to is some carpenters who were working on the railroad above Donner Lake one winter, and they got snowed in, like the Donner Party, and never made it out.”

It seems that the answer to the question depends on where and when you ask it, and—kind of like the band’s live shows—there’s hardly ever a repeat performance. That ever-changing element is part of the appeal of Dead Winter Carpenters; you never know what you’re going to get, whether you’ve caught them once, twice, even 20 times.

“The risk taking [is the best part]. We definitely don’t play the same show twice, for better or for worse,” said lead guitarist/vocalist Bryan Daines. “It gives an incentive for people who have seen the band like 20 times to continue to come out—the fact that there’s no stock version of anything, each song will vary in some way each performance.”

The challenge of constantly mixing things up onstage has kept the five-piece band inspired since its origin in spring of 2010. Sprouting from the roots of a former San Francisco-based bluegrass band—Montana Slim String Band—the group has been consistently on the road, having played approximately 140 shows in 2013. (It was actually kind of a slow year. Other years it’s been around 175 to 180).

“We try to think of different material for each show, so we’re constantly pushing our abilities and pushing our brains to be more creative,” explained fiddler/vocalist Jenni Charles. “I think it’s really satisfying to push your creativity—to make it fun for the crowd, which feeds off of knowing we’re actually having fun up there ourselves.”

The jam-band approach to their upbeat, harmonizing, bluegrass style gives the players a green light to expand upon a song if they feel the mood is right, both within the band and also with the help of accompanying like-minded musicians.

“We know a pretty good extended family of musicians, and we all trust each other onstage enough that we can set a palette for someone else to expand upon and we’re not going to train-wreck,” said Daines of the band’s guests.

One such guest performer—Pete Grant, who has performed with everyone from the Grateful Dead to Willie Nelson—brings a beautiful complement of pedal steel to the foot-stompin’ California-country track “Easy Sleep” on the band’s new six-track EP, Dirt Nap (available online at

As for how guest contributions to the recordings translate into the live show, the band’s intention isn’t to identically recreate what happened in the studio for the stage. Just as with its live performances, the band wants its recording to be a bit different from what fans experience at a concert.

“We’ve been playing these songs live before we put them in the studio,” explained Charles. “And we tried to think about how we could do the arrangements and instrumentation differently from the live shows, which I think is important.”

The group is just starting a month-long jaunt from the Pacific Northwest to Colorado in support of the new EP, and will be making stops at the grand re-opening of Lost on Main in Chico (Saturday, Feb. 1) as well as at the WinterWonderGrass festival in Avon, Colo. They will close out the tour on Feb. 25 at The State Room in Salt Lake City, Utah, sharing the bill with Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers.