Members of the eclectic string band Dirty Cello pride themselves in playing at weird places. And there’s never been a weirder year than 2020.
“We’ve got to get creative at this time,” bandleader Rebecca Roudman said. “We cannot play indoors and we can’t play in small spaces. We’ve got to play in weird places.
During the pandemic, it’s challenging for musicians to find work, especially in California. But Roudman has been busy as ever. Weird.
Dirty Cello performs from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25, at Ferrari Farms in Reno, which is celebrating its Fall Festival. One of the farm’s activities is Baby Goat Yoga, in which participants get a hooves-on experience with curious kids.
Playing around animals is not, uh, weird for Dirty Cello these days.
The band’s first show since the business shutdown was at a buffalo ranch where socially distanced listeners sat atop haybales.
“It felt great to play music again and everyone was grateful to hear music again,” Roudman said.
Roudman is rooted in classical music and she performs with the Santa Rosa and Oakland symphony orchestras. But the thrill of a cheering audiences inspired her eight years ago to form Dirty Cello, first as a duo with her husband, Jason Eckl, who mostly plays guitar but sometimes adds flute, banjo, penny whistle and a most versatile instrument for the 2020 venues — a cowbell. More members were added and the band plays as a trio, quartet or quintet.
An early video of Dirty Cello playing Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” went viral, leading to shows all over the world, including China, England and Italy. The band has seven albums.
Roudman is creative about getting gigs and writing songs, and often will come up with a tune specifically for the venue where her band performs. In summer 2019 when playing Dirty Cello’s second sold-out show at the Lake Tahoe Valhalla Boathouse Theatre,” she sang, “Tahoe’s lake is big and blue, and up there you can gamble, too. Winter ski and summer swim, most beautiful place I’ve ever been.”
In contrast to the two packed live shows, Dirty Cello played in an empty Boathouse Theatre for a streamed performance last summer.
Dirty Cello’s first acclaimed show of 2020 was at the Oakland Zoo.
“The elephant, we played to him, but he turned his back to us so that was a little insulting,” Roudman said. “But the otters loved us. They were swimming in circles and making bubbles.
“Some were more interested in the food than the playing. But there was this little green parrot named Brock and as we were playing he started singing along. I sang a blues duet with a parrot. I guess people were looking for good news, so it made Channels 4, 5 and 7.”
Roudman arranged and recorded songs with female cellists from Cuba, Egypt, Germany and Brazil.
“It’s a fun thing to do since we’ve been forced to stay inside and stay safe and I’ve gotten to know a lot of wonderful cellists,” she said. “Now if we go on tour it would be fun to meet up with them in person.”
And what’s 2020 without adversity? A neighbor called the police on them when they performed at an apple orchard. But “the sheriff looked around and said, ‘No, this isn’t a problem.’ ”
Facebook noticed the attention Dirty Cello has received and contacted Roudman about appearing in a commercial about being productive during the time of Covid-19 with “Hangover” actor Ken Jeung.
“They sent me a professional film studio in a giant box and they had me go online with a tech support guy. We spent hours turning my living room into a film studio. Once that was done they sent a professional set designer who rearranged my entire living room.
“Then a costume designer who had me go through almost every bit of clothing I own. Then finally the director walked me though the commercial and then they filmed my portion of it. The crazy thing is that it all was done over Zoom. When it came out, I saw that Ken Jeung was singing in it and for all that work and three hours of filming, all I say in it is “Chilling with the cellist.”
The weirdest show of 2020 might have been at nudist ranch where Dirty Cello had its best-selling merchandise day ever. But the hot items were not CDs, but, rather, T-shirts and tank tops,
“They would just wear that and nothing else,” Roudman said. “I thought was weirdly ironic.”
— Tim Parsons
- Dirty Cello at Ferrari Farms
- Oct 25, 2 – 4 p.m.
- Ferrari Farms website: ferrarifarms.org
- Address: 4701 Mill Street. Reno, NV 89502
- Tickets: $15 per person, Children 12 and under, $10