Diggin Dirt is an eight-piece soul/funk/reggae group built for music festivals. The California boys proved it this weekend at High Sierra where they played an evening set and a late night, opening for Galactic.
“Last year they threw us a bone,” Frontman Zach Alder said in an interview at the fest. “We got second place in the band contest and it was such a close margin that they let us in.”
As young musicians on a big stage, they were completely wide-eyed last year. They started with an empty Vaudeville tent and created the party one funky lick at a time. This year, the audience was primed and ready. Their percussionist was simply checking his triangle on the mic and the crowd went wild.
“There’s still a sense of something to be proven,” Alder said. “Just like last year, we have to do our best.”
Adler has a gigantic voice and commanding stage presence. The band as a whole is a timepiece, from their outfits to the fonts on posters to Alder’s clear idolizing of James Brown.
“Moving around is how I get out of my head and into my body,” Alder said. “You need a proper stance for your diaphragm, but everything else is for you and for the people to be engaged.”
Diggin Dirt’s goal is to give the audience permission to be free and express themselves.
“If I’m up there hemorrhaging, it might give the crowd permission to bleed a little bit,” Alder said.
They credit the nightly ‘70s outfits as further permission to commit and escape to another era.
“When you’re onstage and wearing funky garb it feels right,” bassist John Callahan said. “And if you’re in jeans and a t-shirt, it feels like you’re half-assing it.”
Diggin Dirt is six feet deep in musicianship, and atop that, Alder writes layered songs. The first layer is what he’s trying to convey, the second is what the listener picks up. “Leather Tramp” is written from the perspective of a migrant worker, coming through Humboldt and ending up in destitution. A problem they see firsthand all the time.
“I’ve got patches on my soul, me and my kind all look the same” from “Leather Tramp
Alder is writing about the Humboldt vagabond, but the crafty ambiguity led the listener and even his own band mates to different meanings.
“That line has always spoken to me personally,” baritone saxophonist Tyler Martin said. “I like looking around me and feeling a brotherhood.”
Onstage and during our interview, the eightsome come off as best friends and brothers. The bond between them helps them communicate onstage without words. This sentiment has been echoed by multiple groups this weekend at the festival.
“I think it’s everything,” tenor saxophonist Aaron Gottesman said. “I think it subconsciously helps more than we realize.”
Even during an off gig, where everyone is getting a vibe the show is going to be trying or weird, at least they are doing it together.
At this point in the interview someone uttered, “hot dog on a fishing poll.”
I asked for clarification because that’s not an expression I’m familiar with. We had struck an inside joke.
They were playing in Bellingham when someone approached the stage with, you guessed it, a hot dog on the end of a fishing poll, and paraded it around, even smacking the guitar during a solo.
The bachelor antics don’t stop onstage. Many of the members live together, have worked different jobs together and spend personal time together hiking or surfing.
These best friends are “spreadin the dirt” across the west coast, Guitarfish and Salmonfest.
— Tony Contini