Cargo blew out the candle on its one-year anniversary with the help of grizzled, Texan songwriter James McMurtry June 11 in downtown Reno.
After a year of concerts, Cargo has seen its stock rise in the Reno/Tahoe area as a venue dedicated to bringing quality music to the biggest little city in the world, from revered bands like Old Crow Medicine Show and Galactic to up-and-coming acts like Sturgill Simpson and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Furthermore, with its Austin City Limits-inspired “Live Cargo at Whitney Peak Hotel” series being broadcasted on PBS and plans for an outdoor concert venue, Cargo is laying the foundation for becoming a premier venue for concertgoers in Reno and Tahoe.
One thing that Cargo’s mothership Whitney Peak Hotel should be commended for on its one-year birthday is embracing the active lifestyle that is characteristic of the Reno/Tahoe population. While other hotels and resorts boast hundreds of slot machines and table games and discount buffet dinners as main attractions, Whitney Peak has pointed to its bouldering gym, 160-foot rock wall on the Reno strip and state-of-the-art music venue. It has catered to the people who don’t want to idly feed a Star Wars slot machine money, but rather actively engage in their stay in Reno. It is a welcomed change to the casino culture and the establishment might end up being a catalyst to further shifting the hotel experience.
So how exactly did McMurtry celebrate Cargo’s birthday? With a solid show all about the stories McMurtry has been telling since the late ’80s. The crowd was a nice mix of camo-clad college kids, suit-and-tie 50-somethings, desert-swept drifters and everyone else in between. It is a testament to McMurtry’s literary songwriting that a crowd as diverse as the one at Cargo on Thursday night can catch a glimpse of themselves in one of his songs.
Case in point was the charging ode to growing up, “Just Us Kids.” McMurtry’s gruff drawl mused about coming to terms with growing older of resonant line, “Just us kids hangin’ out today/ Watchin’ our long hair turnin’ gray,” was met with cheers and raised glasses.
McMurtry’s set included a lot of material from his most recent release, 2015’s “Complicated Game.” Couples swayed a little bit closer together on the eloquent “Copper Canteen,” where a line like, “Honey don’t you be yelling at me when I’m cleaning my gun/ I’ll wash the blood off the tailgate when deer season’s done,” is more endearing than cutting. In a live setting, McMurtry and his bandmates Darren Hess (drums), Tim Holt (guitar) and Cornbread (bassist) pumped more rhythm and energy into the album’s songs, adding a little more spark to the acoustic “Ain’t Got a Place” and “She Loves Me.”
McMurtry had a shiny new record to play for audiences, but songs with a little more wear and tear on them held up well next to the newer songs. “Bayou Tortous” was a swampy, country-blues barn burner with McMurtry’s slowhand playing adding fuel to the fire and “Choctaw Bingo,” arguably McMurtry’s most popular song, got the audience kicking their feet and hollering.
McMurtry is a musician who has stuck around for decades by giving his listeners a transcendent experience through his songwriting. Hopefully, Cargo took some notes from McMurtry and will be creating great experiences for years to come for the live music community in Reno/Tahoe.