Part tour guide, part entertainer and a healthy mix of fact and fiction, Darin Talbot has been delighting audiences on the “M.S. Dixie II” each summer for the past six years.
The stern wheeler-style boat is the largest vessel in South Lake Tahoe and hosts daily sightseeing cruises on Lake Tahoe with the option to purchase lunch and dinner dance parties each evening. This year, the boat celebrates 20 years on Lake Tahoe.
A local of Incline Village, Talbot grew up learning the history of area and absorbing himself in the Tahoe culture. His music career took off when his song “Tweeker Shred Master,” a tune about a die-hard snowboarder inspired by growing up in the mountains, won Best New Song at the first Online Music Festival and opened the opportunity for Talbot to open for the Brian Setzer Orchestra. The song was later used in a clip from the 2006 Warren Miller film, “Off the Grid.”
He has released four musical CDs including “Tahoe Backcountry,” “Music Flight,” “Big Air” and “To Be Without You.” As well as two storytelling self-guided tours of Tahoe, “Lake Tahoe’s Ultimate Skiing & Snowboarding” and “Around Tahoe,” which is a real-time tour around the lake and includes some of Talbot’s greatest hits intermixed with stories and tidbits about the stops around the lake.
Similarly, Talbot’s show on the “M.S. Dixie II” mixes fact and folklore with original songs while being interactive with the audience. As the boat departs from the Zephyr Cove, Talbot gives audiences some interesting information on the volcanic activity and the glacier movement that contributed to the formation of the lake.
“I may be the most obsessed man about Tahoe,” says Talbot during his introduction, and his Tahoe blue outfit complete with a Lake Tahoe lapel on his blue hat helps prove his point.
As the boat cruises toward Emerald Bay, Talbot diverges the history of Tahoe including the discovery and naming of the lake, the mining boom in Virginia City and subsequent clear cutting of Tahoe’s forests to build mining shafts, the wealthy George Whittell Jr., who once owned the East Shore, and the recluse who called Fannette Island his home and lost his toes in an unfortunate quest for more whiskey. He shares the lakes depth, the species of fish and the supposed haunting discoveries that left explorer Jacques Cousteau speechless on his return from the depths of the lake.
His tales range from factual to questionably far-fetched because as the famous writer and Virginia City journalist Mark Twain once said, “Why ruin a good story with the truth?” Talbot assures us with a laugh that what he says is probably 75 percent true.
As the “M.S. Dixie II” makes its way around Emerald Bay and back toward Zephyr Cove Marina, Talbot switches gears from tour guide to entertainer, donning his guitar and serenading guests with some of his favorite hits. However, the most entertaining part of the ride comes from Talbot’s newest project, “Who’s Song Is It?”
“I ask the audience for six ideas and then I write them down. I ask what style of music the audience wants to hear, and then I write the song on the spot,” says Talbot.
Suggestions from the crowd on the “M.S. Dixie II” ranged from “skinny dipping in Emerald Bay” to “hangovers” and “I need a pedicure” and, just as promised, Talbot is able to weave random thoughts into a hilarious love ballad leaving the audience somewhere between tapping their toes and laughing their heads off.
Talbot is working on making “Who’s Song Is It Anyway?” into a separate show that will be performed in lounges throughout Tahoe and the Bay Area.
Talbot closes the show with a round of “Name that Theme Song,” where he plays a variety of television theme songs and crowns one audience member with the honor of being the person who watches the most TV.
To find out more about one of the most entertaining tours of the Lake, visit darintalbot.com or zephyrcove.com/msdizie.aspx.