The band Elephant Revival will perform at High Sierra Music Festival with borrowed instruments and a heightened awareness of love and loss.
A fire broke out in the band’s tour bus on Friday as the musicians slept. Everyone escaped uninjured, but everything on the bus was destroyed. The fire was sparked by an electrical malfunction underneath the bunk of guitarist Daniel Rodriguez.
“As I woke up, my sleeping bag was at my feet completely engulfed in flames,” Rodriguez told Tahoe Onstage. “It began at an electrical outlet beneath my bunk and right next to it was an air vent that was feeding the flames, so once it started it became completely uncontrollable.
“As soon as everybody got out of the bus, smoke started bellowing out of the emergency door on the roof and the fire pretty much turned everything on the inside to ash and char, including all of our instruments and personal belongings.”
Elephant Revival is quintet formed 10 years ago in Nederland, Colorado. It has a singular progressive style of bluegrass, with each member playing multiple and rare instruments. Its musical message is about social consciousness and the band’s name was inspired by a tragic story about a trio of elephants, separated and never reunited.
Just two weeks before the fire, the band performed in its home state’s most prestigious venue, Red Rocks, where Bridget Law played her new fiddle for the first time.
“Bridget lost a fiddle of hers (in the fire) that she’s had for 20 years, as well as a brand-new fiddle that the premier fiddle maker in the states, Jon Cooper, had just made for her,” Rodriguez said. “It was a $15,000 fiddle.
“I lost a handmade guitar my friend made me. Bonnie (Paine) lost her cello, all her bows, the stompbox that she and her dad made. Dango (Rose) lost a mandolin. We kept every instrument on board because we didn’t like putting them underneath.”
It could have been much worse. Paine was in the midst of a dream that helped save everyone’s life.
“She heard a river, but the sound of the river in real life was the sound of the wires being scorched, catching on fire,” Rodriguez said. “She thought in her dream it was a river and she walked up to it and she could smell the river and it smelled awful. It turned out it was the plastic wires burning in our bus. So that woke her up.”
The rest of the band and bus driver Carl Cole were awakened by Paine’s shouts: “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!”
Everyone exited in their sleep clothes. Cole ran back into the bus in a heroic effort to put out the fire, but he was driven back by the smoke and heat. The Hickory Fire Department doused the flames but nothing on the bus was salvaged.
Five days later, Rodriguez was able to make a joke about it. “If I was in the bed just one second longer I probably would never have to shave my legs again,” he said, adding that he addressed the press wearing his boxer shorts — talk about news briefs.
That’s when the love began. The band decided to go on with the show.
“We were there, we had nothing,” Rodriguez said. “There was an opening band so we knew we could borrow their instruments. The fire department and everybody in Hickory was amazing with the lengths they were capable of helping us, and the only thing that we knew how to do … was to just to play the show and have a beautiful community event. Everybody who came to the show put so much energy into it. That was amazing. I am sure there were audience members crying but I didn’t cry until I got back to the hotel room.”
A friend of the band, Keith Martin, started a GoFundMe campaign LINK to help the musicians buy new instruments and belongings. He set a goal of $5,000 and, in less than a day, raised more than $11,000.
“The members of Elephant Revival are some of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure to know,” Martin wrote. “Though it’s been a few years since we last crossed paths, I still consider them dear friends. Seeing name after name flood into my inbox today, and knowing that each one of them had selflessly donated money to help, has warmed my heart more than words can express. Thank you for being a light in the darkness!”
After making it home to Colorado, the band members had a meeting.
“We went through the experience we had together and we envisioned what we want in the future,” Rodriguez said. “We’re all looking at it positively and seeing is as that Phoenix rising sort of thing. Everything went down in the ash, but what’s going to come out of this and how are we going to move forward? We’re not getting too stuck in the ash. We’ve been together 10 years. We’re very close. We’re a very tight-knit family and this certainly has made us much closer.”
The band will fly to Northern California this week, rent vehicles and perform at the Kate Wolf Music Festival June 25-26 in Laytonville and the June 30-July 3 High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy.
Rodriguez said he’s not too concerned about the searing weather forecast.
“It’s hot, man, but I’ve got these new sandals the Red Cross of America brought me and they help me out, big time,” he said.
- Elephant Revival
High Sierra Music Festival
– 5:30 p.m. Friday, July 1, Vaudeville Tent
– 1:30 p.m. Saturday, July 2, Grandstand