Local motion

A downtown Reno bar has reinvented itself as a locally oriented music venue

Ben Sensabaugh, a.k.a. DJ Seven, makes sure he has high-caliber tunes for his Feb. 2 Taste of Reno set at the Sierra Tap House.

Ben Sensabaugh, a.k.a. DJ Seven, makes sure he has high-caliber tunes for his Feb. 2 Taste of Reno set at the Sierra Tap House.

Photo By Audrey Love

Sierra Tap House is at 253 West First St., 322-7678. For more information, visit www.sierrataphouse.com.

Sierra Tap House recently got a facelift. The downtown bar was remodeled to better accommodate live music and now hosts a weekly local music night, Tuesday’s Taste of Reno.

Thanks to the removal of the former arcade games and the addition of some booths, the venue’s spacious back room is now more suited to play host to the local bands the new event aims to showcase.

“This is something that’s really low key,” says musician and Taste of Reno promoter Tony Walker. “I was approached by [Tap House] owner Mike Connelly to do a music night. I chose Tuesday.”

Completing its first full run in January, Taste of Reno has yet to falter, bringing in crowds of both bar regulars and show goers in growing numbers. Part of that could be thanks to the extra incentives of food and drink specials.

“It’s been really good,” says Walker. “I think the lowest amount of people we’ve had is like 50, and the most we’ve had is like too much.”

One band is scheduled per night, and it’s allotted two hours of stage time to both play to its fan base, and attempt to woo the regular bar crowd into the intimacy of the back room.

The acts vary in musical style, everything from hip-hop to jam bands to jazz and acoustic sets. So a listener never knows what to expect.

“Connelly came to me and said he wanted good music,” says Walker of his only instructions when putting the night together. “He wants to have things that sound nice and attract people when they walk into the bar, he doesn’t want a group that can’t hold its own weight.”

The thread Walker is aiming to run throughout his chosen acts is their home base. “I’m not opposed to [out-of-town bands],” he says, “but I am trying to highlight local groups.”

And there are plenty of local bands from which to choose. Although Walker originally set out contacting all the musicians himself, he has since been approached by acts. But space is already limited. In fact, within just two days of reaching out to local musicians; he was booked for most of his initial six-month run.

“I’m booked until May now,” says Walker. “But I booked up until the first week of April, with a few holes in between, in just two days.”

Taste of Reno host and organizer Tony Walker is bringing local music to the newly remodeled Sierra Tap House.

Photo By Audrey Love

As far as how this little bar by the Truckee River holds up as a live music venue, it may not have the sound system of the Knitting Factory, or the crowd space of The Underground, but it does what it needs to do, free of cover charge.

Though Walker has signed on for six-months, he predicts his local music tasting will keep going at least through the end of the year.

“I’ve done enough in this city to know that you have to have a basis for what you want to do from the get-go,” he explains. “I’m not just going to come in and say we have this awesome thing going, and in two months it’s over. I don’t do that.”

February flavors

The month of February features acoustic sets, DJ mixes and piano playing.

DJ Seven started off the month on Feb. 2, bringing out a neo-soul/hip-hop vibe. On the DJ scene for over 18 years, DJ Seven, a.k.a. Benjamin Sensabaugh, got his start at an early age, spinning at high school dances and house parties. After moving to Reno in 2005 to attend the University of Nevada, Reno, Sensabaugh got introduced to the local music scene. He can also be found regularly bringing his beats to the Biggest Little City Club.

“I steer away from a lot of the really mainstream radio stuff,” Sensabaugh says of his music style. “There’re so many other people out there doing it, I didn’t feel the need to be another. … I’m 38 years old, so I try to play a little bit of an older, more sophisticated sound. … I just sort of go in and see what everybody’s feeling. I don’t go in and go, ‘Oh I’m going to play crazy music whether you like it or not.’”

Tuesday, Feb. 8, is Eric Andersen’s night. The singer-songwriter/pianist is known to draw a crowd with his fun-loving crooning reminiscent of Ben Folds. The 23-year-old Milwaukee native has been featuring his foot-tapping, feel-good tunes in Reno for the past two years. He just released a new album, Plane Rides & Ocean Tides, late last year, so Tap House crowds can expect to hear some of its upbeat tracks, accompanied by his trusty piano, of course.

On Feb. 15, the acoustic sounds of Grace Hutchison will be unveiled. With haunting, Cat Power-esque vocals, which act as the main instrument of the night, Hutchison will surely bring the chatter of the bar crowd to a hum. Her mesmerizing vocals aren’t just a hobby to be taken lightly; Hutchinson has turned music into both a passion and a profession. She works as the education director at Reno Philharmonic Association, along with having taught private piano and guitar lessons in the past. She considers her current talent a direct product of school music programs.

Closing out the month on Feb. 22 will be the Whitney Myer Band. The usual four-piece—Whitney Myer, her father Scott Myer, her uncle Fred Myer, and Gia Torcaso—will be appearing as a three-piece, minus Torcaso, for a scaled down acoustic set. With no bass, and a hand drum instead of a drum kit, Whitney Myer says the minimal approach is more suited to its surroundings.

“It’s a smaller place, so it’ll fill the sound better, I think,” she says. “Our regular set is pretty high energy with a lot of dancing, but we like to do these type of things, too, because we have a lot of ballads.”

Constantly growing in popularity, the soulful band brings the sort of funkiness suggestive of Florence and the Machine to the local scene.

“It’s a neat venue for solo acts and musicians,” says Myer of the Tap House. “Sometimes a listener can get more out of an acoustic show because you can hear the lyrics better. It’s neat that they’re offering that for people.”