Truckee history comes to life in song

Photos by Sean McAlindin

As my wife and I arrive at Cottonwood Restaurant on a beautiful autumn evening, it doesn’t take us long to notice that something is up. Gunslingers, judges, drunks, miners, sheriffs and burlesque queens mingle through an ambient crowd. We order drinks as the tables fill in: actors, wait staff and guests moving about in animated anticipation of Richard Blair’s “Streets of Truckee” concert and cabaret.

Nov. 26 & Dec. 6 | 6:30 p.m. | $45
Cottonwood Restaurant | Truckee

“I used to be just another songwriter, but when I started throwing in tunes about the history of Truckee, I realized I had all the material I needed right before me,” says Blair of creating the show.

This is the fifth year “Streets of Truckee” has put on the shows at Cottonwood.

Watch a sneak peak of “Streets of Truckee”:

“People love the fact that we are digging into local history and making it come alive in a contemporary way,” says Blair. “These songs come from the soul of the community we are all connected to and proud of. It’s definitely become a Truckee tradition and my way of bringing a unique listening experience to everyone’s table.”

Over chopped Caesar salad and crisp bread, we chat with a friendly couple at our table while the musicians warm up. Just as soon as we finish our main course of grilled tri-tip with teriyaki glaze, mashed potatoes and steamed broccolini, the actors begin.

“Close your eyes,” narrator Ted Owens instructs the audience. “Think back to a simpler time, an earlier time, a slower time.”

Though the window and down the hilltop behind them the historical buildings of downtown Truckee softly glow. From the corridor enters a young woman and her father who are making the drive up Highway 40 from San Francisco to Truckee.

“Jeepers, Dad! We’ve been driving for two hours and we’re only to Dixon,” the daughter laments.

Soon enough they’re passing Colfax, crossing crystal clear rivers and climbing the mountains into a never-ending forest of pine trees. Following a quick pit stop in Nyack, they carefully wind their way over Donner Summit and into the magical valley of Truckee.

The band bursts into a song about Old 40 in a folk-rock style reminiscent of acoustic Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and The Band and Buffalo Springfield. Then the restaurant’s former owner, Mike Blide, arrives to introduce newspaperman and entrepreneur C. F. McGlashan, who tells the story of the Sierra Nevada’s first resort – Hilltop Lodge, located on the spot where Cottonwood stands today.

“How can you tell if somebody is a Truckee local?” actor Craig ‘Lazzlo’ asks the audience. “They live in Sierraville!”

Out of the woodwork appear Sherriff Jacob Teeter and his murderous deputy James Reed. In spite of the bartender’s best efforts, a gunfight erupts in the Capitol Saloon, sharply sounding the death knell of Teeter’s first and last mistake.

As Blair leads them into the next tune, the band grows tighter and warmer. Cajón and upright bass lay a steady foundation for the group’s cohesive sound, foot-tapping sound while piano and mandolin intertwine the guitarist’s heartfelt melodies. A long-bearded, bespectacled Toots Joslen is now playing pioneer interpreter Caleb Greenwood discussing with the natives the path beyond the Humboldt Sink and into the Sierra where Paiute Chief Trokay awaits.

“When someone ask you how things are going up in Truckee, just tell them it’s Tr-okay!” says the narrator.

On come the marvelous Capitol Theater gals with a can-can dance that’s easily the highlight of the night. They flip, twirl and show off those legs while the band shimmies through a rousing ragtime number. Soon we’re in the Jiboom Street Barber Shop where dirty old miner Greg Zirbel is ready for a shave and, if he’s lucky, a whole lot more.

Blide returns to the stage for a brilliant turn as the skiing postman Snowshoe Thompson. The wait staff weave effortlessly through the room with our dessert of petite chocolate brownie with whipped cream in hand. It’s aptly called “Snowshoe Dope,” aka first board wax, which gets an odd chuckle from the band.

After an obligatory tune about the Donner Party, the performance builds to a spirited crescendo and the entire cast takes the stage for one last dance with members of the audience.

Reservations are required in advance by calling the restaurant at (530) 587-5711.
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