Maybe it was the innovative, eclectic music of Deep Fryed Mojo, or maybe it was the well-balanced, hand-crafted brew of family-owned and operated Napa Smith Brewery, but for a moment last night, I felt like I was floating on water!
I could not imagine a more perfect venue for Pints and Paddles’ monthly beer and band medley than a boat – and not just any boat, but the Tahoe Queen. This three-story, three-bar, authentic Mississippi paddlewheeler was recently renovated to reflect the elegance of the 1900s, when paddlewheelers were in their prime.
As a high-maintenance Queen would demand, each interior section of the paddlewheeler exudes a different personality. A column chandelier channels its way through the center of the two closed-in cabin floors. The second floor lounge shows off luxurious, chocolate-colored, cowhide armchairs, which complement nearby sun-shimmering, golden drapes and lavish, russet leather seating encircling the bar. Alternatively, the back corner room of the second floor and the entire first floor take on a blanc-et-noir color scheme. Wraparound black leather couches outfitted with creamy decorative pillows pair nicely with iridescent mirror tables and ebony, henna-patterned wallpaper.
Pints and Paddles cruise commenced at 7 p.m. just as the sun went down in a September cloudless sky. As the Queen picked up speed, en route to Emerald Bay, five-part local band, Deep Fryed Mojo, warmed up passengers of all ages with some slower, country-inclined songs, made absolutely delightful by viola and mandolin performances of a sixth, honorary band member. Guests took the band’s soothing music as a cue to obtain their first, on-the-house Napa Smith beer, either the Pale Ale or Amber Ale, with bratwurst or pretzel. Beer in hand, passengers flocked to the top deck to enjoy Mount Tallac’s looming silhouette in the distance.
The Tahoe weather gods were benevolent on this calm evening of September 24th, as Indian summer temperatures allowed guests to comfortably enjoy the top deck surroundings in their T-shirts. Ryan Bennett, a South shore resident of six years, remembers being on the Queen when “winds were raging” and temperatures quickly dropped with the sun’s descent. “People did not stay up on the top deck for long.” Instead, they sought the coziness of the Queen’s heated first-floor cabin, where band and beer were located.
This time, passengers still wandered downstairs with the waning sun backdrop, but not because of chilly conditions. Dance fever lured them as Mojo kicked it up a notch to jam band-style beats. A particularly funky, ten-minute groove, infused with harmonica and organ keyboard, got the ladies dancing, and eventually their male counterparts. Even the oldest gentlemen onboard made an appearance on the dance floor for two of Mojo’s blues originals. The seventy-year-old remarks, “I flew 1000 miles to visit Tahoe and I wanted to do something different,” – Pints and Paddles was it.
The best thing about Deep Fryed Mojo, besides their outstanding talent and vigor, was their ability to appeal to a Pints and Paddles crowd of all ages. Drummer Danny Barnes, who, rumor has it, is the best drummer in Tahoe, put his double bass pedal to work on a hopped-up version of Beatles song “Day Tripper.” Front-man vocalist/guitarist Doug Schwartz got improvisational with extended bluegrass jams and Phish covers, pleasing the younger generation onboard. Rolling Stones and Steppenwolf covers struck a chord with the masses, as Baby Boomers and Millennials alike blurted out lyrics to “Honky Tonk Women” and “Magic Carpet Ride.”
At one point in the night, I found myself stargazing at the Milky Way on the Queen’s top deck, when a viola rendition of a Beejees song started stewing. Before I knew it, I was out of my seat, racing down two flights of stairs, to witness highly-skilled, sit-in violist all over his strings, while guitarists Doug Schwartz and Darren Senn, as well as bassist Greg Tomb, mimicked their best Beejees falsettos.
During Mojo’s one-time set break, I had the chance to speak with Tahoe Queen’s Food and Beverage Manager, John Whiteman. When asked what he thought the best thing about these monthly (yes, even during the winter months) Pints and Paddles cruises was, he responded, “the relaxed atmosphere.” John observes the highly-structured, posh environment of the daily dinner cruises put on by the Queen. Pints and Paddles cruises are different. Casually-dressed guests are free to wander the boat, frolicking from beer to band, top deck to ground floor. Such a carefree ambiance encourages passengers to mix and mingle more. John commented that many people leave Pints and Paddles with new friends.
This was apparent as the Tahoe Queen docked at Ski Run Marina on time at 10 p.m. Old friends and new friends were reluctant to leave the paddlewheeler. Deep Fryed Mojo sensed the crowd’s vibe and graciously agreed to play one more Grateful Dead cover. At the song’s end, bassist Greg Tomb announced the party was not over, and invited everyone aboard to nearby bar, Mo’s Place, for after-party festivities.
If September’s Pints and Paddles cruise is a predictor of future Pints and Paddles events, it truly would be a shame to miss out on succeeding bands and breweries onboard the Tahoe Queen. Who knows? Maybe Deep Fryed Mojo and Napa Smith Brewery coupled perfectly to make September’s Pints and Paddles especially spectacular! There is only one way to find out. To purchase tickets for the October Pints and Paddles cruise, call 1-800-23-TAHOE (1-800-238-2463) or book online.