When lead guitar is replaced by the sound of hot licks on a cello, blues, rock and bluegrass rise to a new dimension. Dirty Cello — a four-piece band from San Francisco — makes its style of string music to inspire audiences to swing, sway and dance.
“Our music has never been described as calming,” cellist Rebecca Roudman says with a laugh. “We love the idea of having people unplug, rock out at our concerts and be happy.”
Roudman and her band will perform their high-energy spin on blues, bluegrass and classic rock at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, July 28, on the Courtyard Stage adjacent to the Allen Elizabethan and Angus Bowmer theaters on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland. Admission is free.
Roudman plays fiddle as well as cello and fiddle and sings vocals. She’s accompanied by guitarist Jason Eckle on guitar, bassist Greg Studley and drummer Ben Dubin.
“My inspiration for beginning to play blues and rock cello came in large part from spending many hours playing classical music,” Roudman says.
As a member of an orchestra’s eight-person cello section, she spent most of her time producing long notes in rhythmic patterns as support for the other musicians but rarely had a moment to shine, she says.
“Hearing guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Slash inspired me to find a way to shred on the cello,” Roudman says. “Our band has gone through many different explorations of a crazy amount of different genres, the main theme being where can we push the bounds of what a cello can do.”
The wildness of gypsy violin and blistering, fast bluegrass fiddling strongly influenced her, and the melodies of Gogol Bordello, Stephane Grappelli and Charlie Daniels played a major role in how Dirty Cello developed, she says.
“If it’s fun, fast and makes you want to shout with joy, that’s the kind of music we like to play,” she says. “My cello takes the place of the lead guitar, but as we’ve developed our sound, the fun part has been learning where we can leave the guitar sound behind and create something totally new and different. It’s often said that the cello has the expressiveness to mimic the human voice. I try to bring that expressiveness to my playing.”
Dirty Cello’s repertoire includes about 60 songs split between covers and originals.
“With our live shows, we play without a defined play list,” Roudman says. “Whatever the audience seems to be enjoying most is what we play more of.”
The band members listen to how much applause a song gets, and notice how much foot tapping and dancing it produces.
“Often we ask for requests from the crowd,” she adds.
One of Roudman’s favorite songs to perform is “Don’t Call Me Honey,” a bluesy piece she wrote in response to the degrading way a loan agent treated her. Dirty Cello might also cover Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze” at the Green Show.
“I try to capture the wildness of his version mixed with my own cello-centric improvisation,” she says.
The group’s playlist also includes Vaughan’s “The House is Rockin,” and Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” when Roudman leaves the cello and picks up a fiddle.
“The last OSF Green Show we played was two seasons ago and since then we have kept the same basic sound but have continued to refine our music,” Roudman says. “Anybody who has seen us in the past can expect the same energy, but a bunch of new songs mixed in with our old favorites.”
Eckle shares Roudman’s enthusiasm for the performances.
“As the guitarist and emcee of Dirty Cello, I am constantly thrilled by how exciting our concerts are,” he says. “Most of our band comes from a classical tradition, me included. To take all of our training and then turn it into something totally different is great fun.”
Dirty Cello has performed up and down the West Coast, and at some exciting venues in China, Scotland and Italy. Roudman and her band performed at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples’ Praise of Cello Festival, she says.
The band’s newest album, “By Request,” is available at the band’s shows. Its 2017 release, “I May Not Be Perfect,” is available at cdbaby.com and iTunes.
See dirtycello.com for more.