A familiar stew

Maybe it’s the band, maybe it’s the beer or the raffle prizes, but the annual Brew HaHa—a fund-raiser for Sierra Arts—sells out year after year

Mumbo Gumbo plays, as usual, for the seventh annual Brew HaHa. The band members are, clockwise from left, Lynn Michael Palmer, Steve Stizzo, Tracy Walton, Chris Webster, Jon Wood, Rick Lotter and Reggy Marks.<p></p>

Mumbo Gumbo plays, as usual, for the seventh annual Brew HaHa. The band members are, clockwise from left, Lynn Michael Palmer, Steve Stizzo, Tracy Walton, Chris Webster, Jon Wood, Rick Lotter and Reggy Marks.

brouhaha n 1: loud, confused noise from many sources, a hubbub, an uproar. 2: a confused disturbance far greater than its cause merits.

—Princeton’s WordNet

The key ingredient to success for Sierra Arts’ annual Brew HaHa fund-raiser may be a simple lack of pretension.

“People love it,” says Loni Harris, director of Sierra Arts, of the yearly microbrew-zydeco dance party. “This market is a beer market. People want to lay back and have a good time, not worry about dressing up and just relax.”

For seven years, the event’s formula has remained the same: music by Mumbo Gumbo and the likes of Buddy Emmer and Vertigo Tango. Beer from about 25 microbreweries. And a raffle with such prizes as tickets for local music and theater productions, a Mexican get-away, a limousine ride to Gerlach for dinner at the legendary Bruno’s and—ta-dum—two tickets to Burning Man.

“This is the first time for people to get tickets to Burning Man,” Harris says. The Melting Pot World Emporium in Reno, a store that will be selling various items at the Brew HaHa event, donated the tickets to Burning Man, the annual chaotic Labor Day arts festival in the Black Rock Desert. Harris says the tickets—worth about $400—have already proved a huge incentive to buy raffle tickets. “Just advertise Burning Man and tickets are selling.”

Other than the raffle, there’s not much new happening at this year’s event. That sameness is part of the design.

“We have never changed the entertainment—in seven years,” Harris says. “Sometimes people say, ‘Why don’t you change the band?’ but the reality is that we sell out. There’s no reason to change. Why change something that’s already a success?”

If you’ve never been to Brew HaHa, here’s how it works: You pay $25 for a ticket and get a Brew HaHa commemorative beer glass. This year’s glasses are hunter green, says event coordinator Bill Kolton, who’ll be adding a fifth glass to his collection this year. Beers featured at the event are $3 a pint. Booths will be set up with beer from a couple dozen small microbreweries from Northern Nevada and California, including Reno’s Silver Peak and Great Basin Brewing Co.

“And if you’re nice to the guys, you can get a little splash so you can taste [new kinds of beers],” Kolton says. Plenty of “munchie food” will be on hand, sold by John Ascuaga’s Nugget. Other stuff for sale: CDs, hats and Burning Man tickets, in case you don’t win the raffle.

It’s basically an all-around fun time, Kolton says.

“The thing that impresses me is the staying power of Brew HaHa,” he says. “People love the event. We get folks coming over the hill from Sacramento. People like the prizes. People like Mumbo Gumbo.”

Oh, yeah. Mumbo Gumbo. On the off chance you haven’t caught the Sacramento band at, maybe, a Farmers’ Market or similar celebration, here’s why you shouldn’t miss another chance to see ’em.

Mumbo Gumbo is kind of zydeco, kind of Tex-Mex. They’ve got a brassy New Orleans sound. With a touch of R&B. Rock. Rockabilly. Reggae. And a hint of blues. Whatever. It’s enough jiving jazzin’ groove to get your toes tapping, head swinging, shoulders twitching … in short, you can’t help but dance to this music. Even if you can’t dance. Or won’t. It’s no good resisting.

The seven-member group calls itself “extremely infectious.” This claim is backed up at its Web site, www.mumbogumbo.com, which offers free MP3 downloads of four tunes from the group’s most recent CD, called 7.

The CD’s gotten some good buzz.

“Listening to 7 is not unlike taking a stroll through the French Quarter during Carnival, passing by the bars and clubs and hearing a different style of music pouring out of each one, or passing the various restaurants with their various smells spilling out onto the street,” writes Scott Snidow of Rockzilla.net. “Each track is an independent musical study, yet somehow, like the blend of smells and music in the Quarter, it all goes together perfectly, almost expectedly.”

Sure. And it sounds good, too. I downloaded all four songs, including one called “Superman Blue,” a lovely and funny tune with the nifty line that sounds like: “Superman cares about everybody, Jimmy,” and the catchy refrain, “Up … up … up and away.”

So there it is. For Kolton, the only problem with Brew HaHa is that he has to run it. Last year was the first time he actually got out and danced during a couple of songs.

“I like Mumbo Gumbo’s music, and I like drinking beer,” Kolton says. “So it’s a win-win for me. You see the same people you see at Rollin’ on the River—people who like world beat music.”

These folks, over the years, have become friends.

“You get some people who come into Sierra Arts just once a year—to buy tickets to Brew HaHa," Kolton says. "It’s just a happy crowd. It’s a dancing party for 2,000 of our closest friends."