I overheard something recently that explained a phenomenon that had heretofore been a complete mystery to me: the longstanding success of Jimmy Buffett, king of the parrot heads. Buffett has built his entire songwriting career—not to mention his books, restaurant chains and various other entrepreneurial endeavors—on a single ideal moment: sitting on a tropical beach, fruity cocktail in hand, watching the sunset. It’s been a great day and the night ahead promises to be even better.
It’s a moment that’s meant a lot to many people, and Buffett totally owns it. Now, some of us wouldn’t want to live in that moment forever, but few of us who have ever experienced it would deny that we enjoyed it. For a lot of folks, just the mention of the word “Margaritaville” stirs up happy memories of that moment—real or imagined.
Singer-songwriter Darin Talbot is sometimes referred to as “the Jimmy Buffett of Lake Tahoe.” This isn’t because of an overwhelming musical similarity—Talbot has more in common with acts like Dave Matthews or Jack Johnson. But, like Buffett, there’s a similar single moment he epitomizes:
“After a day snowboarding in the Tahoe back country, coming home, ready for a beer,” he says.
While Talbot doesn’t balk at the “Jimmy Buffett of Lake Tahoe” label, he wants to be known by his own name. He prefers the title “The Voice of Lake Tahoe.”
With sun-kissed hair and skin and a snowboarder’s demeanor that’s equal parts giddy and carefree, Talbot has been performing relentlessly around the area for the last 12 years or so, and has released about a half dozen albums. But his latest release, he says, “is really the culmination of 10 years’ work.”
Around Tahoe: The Ultimate Tour Guide for Driving around the World’s Most Beautiful Lake spans two CDs and nearly 50 tracks. The tracks alternate between songs, historical stories and insider scoop on restaurants, bars and shops. It’s Talbot’s comprehensive, multi-faceted portrait of the lake.
“It’s fulfilling a need,” he says, “without compromising artistically.”
The CDs are meant to work in real time as the listener drives around the lake. Talbot put a lot of effort in getting the timing to work as well as possible. You can start the audio journey at any point along the lake, and then drive clockwise, on the side of the road closer to the lake. The CD booklet folds out to a map that shows possible starting points along the lake and corresponding tracks on the CDs.
The historical stories, replete with sound effects, detail Tahoe-related subjects ranging from the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley to the Angora fire of 2007, from Mark Twain to Frank Sinatra, from Bonanza to The Godfather Part II.
“The songs are meant to provide a taste of Tahoe lifestyle,” says Talbot. They’re laidback, unobtrusive ski bum tunes with titles like “Lazy Days in Tahoe.”
“It’s everybody kind of music,” says Talbot. “It’s family friendly and tourism-driven.”
For many songwriters, providing songs for a tour guide album would feel like a sell-out. But not Talbot. His whole oeuvre is about the place. His fascination—obsession really—with Tahoe is authentic. He may be a lot of things, but he’s not a poseur.
“Tahoe is not on the pedestal that it belongs to be,” he says. “Its history is so dynamic … It’s the greatest lake in the world.”
When Talbot says Tahoe “is the greatest lake in the world,” he says it with casual conviction. It’s not just his opinion, but an indisputable fact. He considers it his role in life to sing praise for the lake and to live perpetually in that perfect Tahoe moment.
“Who’s going to write 18 songs about Tahoe again?” he says. “That would just be insane!”