Nevada County musicians find right mix in Achilles Wheel (VIDEO) |

Nevada County musicians find right mix in Achilles Wheel (VIDEO)

Photos courtesy of John Taber

“Achilles Wheel is the best band I’ve heard for years coming out of Nevada County. They have great original songs and singing accompanied by a swinging band with just the right groove that you can hang out with for hours on the dance floor.” — Paul Emery, Paul Emery Music, Nevada City

“From the first time I saw them, I felt they had something special … I witnessed their ability to turn heads and convert more music junkies into entranced believers.” — Wesley Robertson, “Rockin’ and Stompin’” KVMR DJ

“I’m a fan, a booker and friend. All the best came together in Achilles Wheel.” — Scott Holbrook, Keep Smilin’ Promotions, Auburn

Fresh from a standing ovation at the Spring Strawberry Music Festival in Yosemite last month and headed for a repeat appearance at the Kate Wolf Festival in Loyalton later this month, Achilles Wheel is going to rock and roll onstage at the North Star House in Grass Valley this weekend.

The genre-defying band is headlining the South Yuba River Citizens League’s 30th anniversary auction, party and picnic Saturday evening. Beaucoup Chapeaux and Ghost Pines are the opening acts. The festivities begin at 5 p.m.

‘Who are those guys?’

Although the genesis of Achilles Wheel goes back four years, it really wasn’t until last year’s Kate Wolf Festival that the band made a name for itself. Not exactly a headliner, it opened on the back stage to “just a handful hangers-on,” wrote Mike Roberts, in the July 25, 2012, issue of Placerville’s Mountain Democrat newspaper.

“Within three songs,” Roberts wrote, the band was “surrounded by hundreds of future fans muttering variations of ‘who are these guys?’”

Pretty much the same thing just happened at Strawberry, reported band member Gary Campus. Called in just days before the festival began because another band had cancelled, Achilles Wheel took the unenviable spot of opening the festival at 11:15 a.m. Friday.

Most people were still eating breakfast when they kicked off their set, but within two songs, more than a 1,000 people had gathered around the main stage.

“It was pretty outrageous,” Campus said. “We got a standing ovation.”

Strawberry is known for bluegrass, and Kate Wolf is known for folk music. Achilles Wheel can do that, but their high-energy rock ‘n’ roll, roots, world music sound has pushed the boundaries of both festivals.

Meet the boys in the band

All five members of Achilles Wheel are veteran, accomplished musicians. And they’ve all pretty much played together in one band or another over the years. Four of the members are longtime residents of Nevada County, and one is based in Placerville in El Dorado County.

They all still sit in or play with other bands, but to a man, they say Achilles Wheel is the band that’s going to take them places.

Paul Kamm leads almost a double life as a musician. He and his wife, Eleanore MacDonald, have toured internationally as a folk singing-songwriting duo, but he is also known locally as the longtime rhythm guitarist for Buck Love and the Humperheads as well as the Grateful Dead tribute band the Deadbeats.

Jonny “Mojo” Flores out of Placerville has played with many groups, including the Sacramento Blues Revue. He teamed up with Kamm as lead guitarist in another Grateful Dead tribute group called Dead Ahead. Something clicked between the two of them, and they became the primary songwriting team for Achilles Wheel.

Although the group does cover songs, “We try to focus on original music,” said Kamm.

“We really blend a lot of genres,” added Flores. “It’s pretty eclectic.”

Campus and Mark McCartney have been a drumming team for years in both the Deadbeats and Dead Ahead. Like the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, Achilles Wheel features two full drum kits.

“It’s kind of like one drummer with four hands and four feet,” said McCartney. “I think this band is ready for prime time.”

“The chemistry is exciting,” agreed Campus. “When we’re on stage, we’re having fun.”

Shelby Snow is the newest member of Achilles Wheel, joining the band just before last year’s Kate Wolf performance. Definitely, the most animated member of the group, he plays a six-string bass, but, “I hesitate to even call it bass playing.”

“Shelby’s a gas,” said Kamm. “He’s off the hook.”

Snow’s done “the whole music scene,” playing with some big-name bands, but Achilles Wheel is his dream band: “It blows my mind just to be part of it. The bigger the show, the better this band gets.”

What a trip and tribute

The theme of SYRCL’s 30th anniversary fundraising party is “What a Wild and Scenic Trip It’s Been,” which is based on the Grateful Dead’s iconic song lyric, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

And that’s why SYRCL chose Achilles Wheel with its Grateful Dead roots and the band members’ long-standing support of SYRCL, said board member Shana Maziarz. “We wanted a really rocking dance band for this party.”

“We love supporting SYRCL,” McCartney said.

Those who can’t make it Saturday can catch Achilles Wheel Thursday (June 13) at the Crazy Horse Saloon and Grill in Nevada City. For more about the band or its shows, visit

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada City. He can be contacted at

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