Cabarets aren't easy venues. Crowds can be unpredictable, diverse and difficult to please. But musicians such as Maxx Cabello Jr. know spontaneity is one of the best ways to engage an audience.
"I don't like to have a set list," said the Bay Area singer-songwriter. "I look out at the crowd and decide what to play. I've always trusted my gut. Most of the time, I'm right."
Known for mixing rock, blues and soul with Latin influences, Cabello is no stranger to working the room and calls himself "blessed" for any opportunity to pick up his guitar and perform in front of crowds, as he will this weekend at the Red Hawk Casino in Placerville.
"I just like to play," he said. "I've never had a manager. I've never had an agent. If I go somewhere and feel like a puppet, I don't want to play."
Cabello grew up in San Jose. Both his parents played music, as did his brother and three sisters. His neighbor was Jerry Rubalcaba, a guitarist who had opened for B.B. King and Paul Revere and the Raiders. He played a Freddie King album for young Maxx "and from then on I could not put down the guitar," Cabello said.
His first gig was at his high school prom. Then he started playing in clubs.
"Do you want to know what love is?" he asked. "Love is my parents waiting outside bars for me when I was 15."
Cabello, who recently opened for B.B. King himself, an experience he called "spiritual," has gained a large following of fans in his many engagements in Northern California and Nevada. He's known for high-energy shows, and fans will appreciate that they may soon have a chance to take home a large collection of his music.
"I'm working on a 32-song album," he said. "I know that sounds crazy, but I have so much music I want to share. I've finally matured to the point where it makes the most sense to do this. Plus, I'm recording at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley where all the greats have played, like Miles Davis. Creedence Clearwater (Revival) made that studio and you can't be in a better atmosphere than that."
The album will be called "Love and War" and it will include, like his live shows, his originals. He occasionally plays covers he's particularly fond of songs from the Animals but his music dominates.
"Rock 'n' roll is such a wide genre," he said.
As for the name? His father is named Max. He added the extra "X."
"At one point I thought Dos Equis would sponsor me, but it didn't quite work," he said.
(Friday and Saturday, shows starting between 5 and 9:30 p.m.; redhawkcasino.com.)
Boomtown, Reno Events Center: Great White, March 30. (800) 648-3790.
Carson Valley Inn Valley Ballroom: the Four Preps, March 29-30. Cabaret Lounge: Midnight Express, today-Saturday; Brian Andrews, Sunday-Wednesday; Chili Sauce, Thursday-March 23; Paul Covarelli, March 24-27. (775) 782-9711.
Eldorado, Reno Showroom: "Magique," Tuesdays-Sundays, through April 14; "Menopause the Musical," Tuesdays-Sundays, April 19-July 14. (800) 648-5966.
Harrah's Lake Tahoe South Shore Room: Abbacadabra, March 23; the Reflections of Michael, March 30. (800) 427-7247.
Harrah's Reno Sammy's Showroom: the Four Tenors, Thursdays-Sundays, through May 28. The Stage @ the Zone: G Spot Boogie Band, today-Saturday; Two Steps Down, next Friday-March 23; Apple Z, March 29-10. (800) 427-7247.
Harveys, Lake Tahoe Jackie Flynn and Kevin Flynn, today-Sunday; Bob Gleib, Wednesday-March 24; Shayla Rivera, March 27-31. (800) 427-8397.
Horizon, Lake Tahoe Illusion Fusion starring Alex Ramon, Thursdays-Tuesdays. (775) 588-6211.
MontBleu Resort, Lake Tahoe MontBleu Theatre: Rob Schneider, March 23. (888) 829-7630.
Silver Legacy, Reno Grand Exposition Hall: Creedence Clearwater Revisited, May 24; Amy Schumer, May 25.(800) 687-8733.