Combining virtuosic musicianship and a fiery taste for rock and roll, Marin-based ensemble Dirty Cello is renowned around the world for their energetic live shows and their remarkable ability to reinvent classical and modern music into a one-of-a-kind experience.
Led by classically-trained cellist Rebecca Roudman, the band was one of the busiest live acts in the region until the pandemic closed shop on live shows in the North Bay. Yet, the group played on by finding unexpected venues. Now, Dirty Cello returns to one of their favorite traditional venues, the HopMonk in Sebastopol, for a two-night record release party in celebration of their new album, Dirty Cello Smokes the ’60s.
“When the pandemic hit, we were one of the fortunate bands that performed pretty much every weekend,” Roudman says. “But we had to get super creative with what we did.”
Unable to play for humans, Dirty Cello did the next best thing and performed for animals at the Oakland Zoo. There, they faced some of their toughest crowds.
“We played for the elephants, who did not like us and turned their backs on us,” Roudman says.
One little parrot named Broc did enjoy the show, so much that it began singing along with the group. That led to a viral video, from NBC, of the band at the zoo. The band also played at buffalo ranches, apple orchards and other distanced outdoors venues including a nudist resort in Los Gatos, where the audience wore masks and broke out hula hoops.
Last year, the band went back into its Novato recording studio to lay down new album Dirty Cello Smokes the ’60s. The album features 10 tracks of classic rock songs—by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin—performed with Dirty Cello’s bluesy, up-tempo style.
The group created the album using a mix of vintage gear from the 1960s, including a reel-to-reel tape recorder, mixed with modern gear such as a recreation of a famous ’60s–era ribbon mic.
“All of our albums are driven by what people ask for, and people have been asking for a 1960s album that’s a lot of fun,” Roudman says. “And we delivered.”
Songs like “Classical Gas” and “Purple Haze” get the Dirty Cello treatment on the record, with Roudman’s strings substituting for guitars, and fans will get their first chance to grab the album when the group performs at HopMonk this week.
“It’s one of our favorite places to play,” Roudman says. “It’s a seated show, but there will be room to dance.”