Story and Images by Tony Contini
I thought I was in the wrong place when I walked into Homegrown Gastropub on Virginia Street. A kind waiter at the bustling restaurant assured me there was indeed a concert, towards the back and up a flight of stairs. It’s a little hidden. But, both the music and the ambience upstairs were fantastic.
For this night, I had a rule: no country songs about tractors. I think Tom VandenAvond discredited my rule with one beautiful rhyme involving John Deere and John Muir.
VandenAvond was the first performer of the weekly Homegrown Songwriter Wednesdays showcase. It’s the brainchild of Spike McGuire, the founder of Loud As Folk, a monthly showcase at Pignic and a traveling revue, and Reno folk super group Six Mile Station.
“I have worked with a lot of great acts over the years for my showcase Loud As Folk,” McGuire said. “The shows I’m putting together for Homegrown are about highlighting a different one of those artists each week. It features two sets from a single performer, 6 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday.”
The room was lit by ornate chandeliers on the metal roof and Himalayan salt lamps on tables.
Many patrons were seated calmly on sofas with wine and food, others had their eyes locked on the performer.
“We have to make sure there are places you can get the full cultural experience of an arts mecca like Reno even if you aren’t 21,” McGuire said. “I can’t overstate the importance of that.”
McGuire is a workaholic and a singer/songwriter himself.
“I have also been producing Loud As Folk showcases on a larger scale in seated theaters,” McGuire said. “We’ll be taking it to the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City, Nevada Museum of Art, the Levitt AMP series in Carson City, and Valhalla Boathouse Theatre in Lake Tahoe.”
VandenAvond played two sets full of intimate songs. He’s a traveling man and storyteller. He’s spent time living in Dublin and London. His soft, gravely voice was comforting. It reminded me of one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Sam Baker. He was accompanied by a great violin/accordion player who hacked at his instrument. At times, he held it at his waist like a cradled baby. VandenAvond sang a verse in Spanish and they covered Merle Haggard’s “Ramblin’ Fever.”
VandenAvond is also currently recording his ninth studio album at the Loud As Folk Sonical Fusion Center, a studio owned by McGuire and Greg Gilmore.
Reno’s musical culture is alive and well.
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