Mountain music

Dead Winter Carpenters

Brian Huston, Dave Lockhart, Jesse Dunn, Bryan Daines, Jenni Charles are Dead Winter Carpenters.

Brian Huston, Dave Lockhart, Jesse Dunn, Bryan Daines, Jenni Charles are Dead Winter Carpenters.

Allison Young

For more information, visit deadwinter

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

“We all sort of practice amateur carpentry on our own, in different regards,” Dunn begins—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 that were working on the railroad above Donner Lake one winter, and they got snowed in, like the Donner Party, and never made it out.”

That’s a literal inspiration behind the name Dead Winter Carpenters—if that’s the explanation you happen to catch. Just like the band’s live performances, it seems the answer to the question is based on where and when you ask it—there’s likely never a repeat performance. That ever-changing element is what makes Dead Winter Carpenters so special, 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,” says lead guitarist and 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 going strong since their 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, playing approximately 140 shows just this year. (It’s actually been a slow year. Other years have been around 175-180).

“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,” Jenni Charles, fiddler and vocalist of DWC, explains. “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.”

Part of what helps the five musicians consistently offer new takes on their tracks is the jam-band like atmosphere their bluegrass style of music offers. They can easily expand upon a song if they feel the mood is right, both among themselves, and also with the help of accompanying likeminded 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,” says Daines of the band’s guest performers.

One such guest performer brought the element of pedal steel to the track “Easy Sleep” off the band’s new six track EP, Dirt Nap (which is available as a free download for a limited time at Others have allowed for the appearance of sitar, viola, banjo and harmonica.

As for how those guest spots will translate into the live show, well, the intention isn’t to translate them identically to the stage. Just like its live performances, the band wants its recording to be a bit different from what fans have already seen and heard.

“We’ve been playing these songs live before we put them in the studio,” explains 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.”