Jake Wood recently played percussion with a traveling production of Hamilton. The drummer for gypsy rock band Diego’s Umbrella, Wood says the experience was “drastically different” than what he’s used to.
“I was stuck in an orchestra pit for the last six months, playing the exact same notes every night,” he says. “To come back to this, where I get to rock out and play the stuff I came up with, and have fun, and express myself in a completely different setting and manner is such a cathartic release.”
A longtime drummer and percussionist, Wood holds down rhythm duties for one of the rowdiest, high-energy acts around. Comprising Vaughn Lindstrom on acoustic guitar and vocals, Jason Kleinberg on fiddle and vocals, Kevin Gautschi on electric guitar and vocals, Red Cup on bass, and Wood on drums, Diego’s Umbrella has a gift for playing rafter-rattling songs that capture the imagination and feet. After his time on the road, Wood is thrilled to be back with the band.
“I might even be feeling it more than the rest of the guys,” he says with a laugh.
Blending Eastern European gypsy (Roma) sounds, Spanish flamenco, polka, ska, pop, rock and more, Diego’s Umbrella digs deep into traditional styles and brings to them a 21st century flair and spirit. Wood describes the band’s live shows as infectious.
“If people are paying any attention,” he says, “they realize that we’re having a party and they should join us. It usually works out for both parties involved.”
The band members have a solid handle on a number of styles to hold the whole thing together. For Wood, this is the challenge and the joy of performing with Diego’s Umbrella.
“I get to play reggae, polkas, ska, punk rock, a little bit of metal, hip-hop—it’s a dream come true for a drummer,” he says. “I get to do a lot of cool stuff and flex different parts of my brain, in terms of what I’ve learned over the years. It’s not boring in the slightest.”
Formed in 2001, Diego’s Umbrella released its fifth full-length album, Edjka, last year and is gearing up to record a new batch of songs. The band treats its performances and setlists with the same care it treats its albums. As Wood explains, they run performances like a stage show, with few pauses between songs. The members, Wood explains, “cultivate a certain experience.”
“We’ll decide to start off on the harder side with one crowd, then go into some mellower stuff and have the crescendo later,” he says. “Or, if the crowd isn’t arriving early, we’ll start with B-list stuff, then once we have a full crowd, we unleash the A-list stuff.”
For a band that was born and raised in San Francisco, the members of Diego’s Umbrella have seen the music scene in the city change dramatically in the last 10 years. Most striking is the present lack of small venues where bands can get experience and start a fan base.
“Most of the smaller venues that I came up playing in don’t exist anymore,” says Wood. “You need those small venues to cultivate a following. Without that, you’re just not going to have as many acts coming out of San Francisco. Not to mention, a lot of musicians are moving out of the city, so you don’t have as many local bands to play with anymore.”
He stresses, however, that the Bay Area music scene is still alive and well.
“Some artists are pretty quick to hate on San Francisco—that it’s not what it used to be,” he says. “I tell them that I’m still here and it’s my job to keep it cool. We all have to do our part so it doesn’t suck too much.” He adds, “But, as I was traveling the last six months, it was quite obvious that it’s a lot easier to be a musician in other cities.”
When asked what we can expect from the upcoming Diego’s Umbrella performance at Moe’s Alley, Wood says, “a whole lot of sweat.”
“We expect to see a pretty big turnout of die-hard, dancing, party fans,” he says. “We’ve been playing Moe’s in Santa Cruz for years and we haven’t played a weekend in a long time. This show should be quite the dancing spectacle. That’s my prediction.”
Diego’s Umbrella will perform at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 1 at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $12/adv, $15/door. 479-1854.