When I asked Jason Eckl, conductor of the Renegade Orchestra, what the group was about, he responded, “the pure unbridled fury of what an orchestra can truly do.” Dang.
Formed from a mix of orchestra instrumentalists, the project takes as its starting point the oft-forgotten truth that local classical musicians are amazing at what they do. Yet, so often buried behind soloists, wrapped in generic black formal wear and labeled things like “third violin,” these craftsmen and -women deserve the chance to shine. That’s what the Renegade Orchestra exists to do. And to rock.
Built on the hardy frame of a rock band rhythm section—drums, bass, guitar—this group shreds by design and passion.
“Rock musicians get to have more fun than classical musicians, and this orchestra is changing that,” said Eckl. Audiences are encouraged to holler mid-song for solos and dance at will. Easy to do when the tight little 20-piece combo rips into Hendrix’s heavenly “Purple Haze” or “Crazy Train” by the demonically divine Ozzy Osborne.
Ok, before classical music fans head for the hills to avoid the din they might imagine, the Renegade Orchestra is more refined than it might sound at first.
Recall, the purpose of this project to shine a light on the talent and hard work of the orchestral players that are too often kept out of the limelight. As classical symphony goers hopefully appreciate, soloists at the top of their game rely on the rock-steady quality of their orchestra.
This group is about those “other” players getting to showcase their skills. The freedom of rock & roll and the other musical forms the Renegades play allows these instrumentalists the space to shine that is not available on a classical stage.
Those who appreciate classical music will delight in the technical freedom the group encourages, even those who can’t hang with “Bohemian Rhapsody” (no shame, I can’t either). The unique nature of the musical group is epitomized by its approach to improvisation.
“There are entire sections where any musician who wants to take an improvised solo can. We put microphones on every player and turn them loose to show off their amazing skills,” said Eckl. “They also get to dress in whatever they want to wear,” he quipped.
Another distinction from the more familiar classical experience is the intimacy and immediacy of the orchestra’s shows. Many of the group’s gigs are on small stages that let the musicians and audience feel truly connected through the love of music.
“Our next show will be at the venerable and funky Rancho Nicasio,” said Eckl. “[It will] be intimate and fun. Audiences will be right in the thick of things, feeling the power of the group,” said Eckl. “It won’t be too loud however,” he added.
“At this show, we’ll be releasing our next album. This album features a mix of songs that were most popular at our shows, along with songs the audiences requested we record,” he said.
In a laudable tradition, after shows the group takes requests for songs to learn for future shows. “This group has a constantly evolving set of music that is decided on by both the audiences and the musicians in the group,” said Eckl. “After each show, the audience has a chance to let the group know what songs they want to hear next, and we really do play those at the next concert.”
Renegade Orchestra plays on Friday, Jan. 27 at Rancho Nicasio, 1 Old Rancheria Rd., Nicasio. Dinner reservations from 6pm, music at 7:30pm. After the show, the musicians will be available to chat with the audience and take requests for the next set of music.