Four years ago, Rebecca Roudman and husband Jason Eckl booked a night’s stay at a fully functioning buffalo ranch on California’s Central Coast. While there, the owner gave them a tour of the property. They noticed a beautiful outdoor stage that was used for church services. Roudman asked, “Would you consider having a concert here?”
The owner said, “Sure, why not,” and next thing Roudman knew, her cello-driven roots-rock band Dirty Cello—which will be playing Michael’s on Main on Aug. 15—were performing on that stage to hundreds of their fans. It became an annual tradition for the San Francisco five-piece band.
This year, after reeling from a canceled European and East Coast tour, and spending as much time as possible livestreaming concerts, the group thought it was time to get out and play some (safe) live shows again. What would be a better place to have a socially distant concert than at the buffalo ranch?
To keep things safe, they strategically spaced out hay bales for people to sit on and watch the show. And rather than having hundreds of people, they limited the engagement to around 50.
“I remember waking up the next morning, and my heart just felt full again,” Roudman says. “Everybody’s been feeling understandably upset with how the world is going. I think music is that piece of the puzzle that makes people forget about their troubles and feel happy.”
Before the show, the group had been extremely busy in the Zoom concert realm. Their livestreams were so popular that Facebook contacted Roudman to be featured in an ad starring Ken Jeong that encouraged people to shelter in place and learn new skills via Facebook Live. There’s a short clip of Roudman playing the cello as the song says, “Chilling with the cellist.” The production took half a day on April 30. She received a mobile film studio delivered to her home via courier, and had lengthy Zoom discussions with a tech support guy, a set designer, a costume designer, and the director, all guiding her to get the perfect setup so she could casually play a little cello in her house while she quarantines.
“It was a surreal experience,” Roudman says.
The Zoom performances were great—in late July they were also hired by Google to play two shows for their legal team remotely—but what really excited Roudman was playing for live audiences. That buffalo ranch show proved it could work. They set out to gig regularly again, without doing anything that wasn’t safe. That meant that they’d be playing outdoors a lot, and not always at standard venues.
One of their more unusual gigs was at the Oakland Zoo, where they played for the animals. Roudman heard that the animals were feeling down because they were used to having the clamor and noise of human beings coming through their environment, so she offered to do a zoo concert. A highlight for that show was a blues duet she sang with a green parrot named Brock.
“It was to see if it would make the animals happier,” Roudman says. “I don’t know if it did or not, but the zookeepers had a great time.”
Their more typical shows these days involve outdoor theaters, backyard parties and performing on their flatbed truck in public spaces.
“We realized we needed to be creative during this time if we wanted to continue to play music in a safe way,” Roudman says. “We’re people that like to keep going no matter what’s going on.”
The group has done several shows now, including two short, last-minute Oregon tours. Their socially distant show at Michael’s on Main will be fewer people than they’re used to playing for there, but in a way, it’ll be one of their most normal shows they’ve done in months. They’re looking forward to coming down and giving people a taste of some joy, by way of music.
“We’re going to keep booking safe shows as much as we can,” Roudman says. “A lot of people are focusing on what’s wrong in the world right now. At our show at Michael’s on Main, we’re going to do only positivity. Crazy amount of energy. And a whole night of fun, all done safely.”
Dirty Cello performs at 8:30pm on Saturday, Aug. 15, at Michael’s On Main, 2591 Main St., Soquel. $50. 831-479-9777. michaelsonmainmusic.com.