Cellist Rushad Eggleston is running away from the stage, sprinting up the hill on the backside of the amphitheater at Camp Krem, clutching his cello as he goes.
It’s Saturday, April 30, day two of the Do-It-Ourselves Festival, now in its fourth year, and Eggleston is in the middle of playing a gibberish song about cat food.
Dressed in a black-and-white checkered polyester suit and a green Robin Hood-type hat, the “Cello Goblin” as he is sometimes called, is captivating the crowd, each shenanigan more hilariously unexpected than the last—and a list of accolades that includes his own made-up language, musical ad-libbing and oddball physical comedy.
In the middle of “It Eats the Vormidjjiuan Cat Food,” Eggleston scales the outdoor amphitheater’s balcony, balances on its railing and then continues to play to the crowd below.
Then, he turns around and puts his left foot on a different railing, higher up, some 5 feet away, and continues bowing while practically doing splits suspended in mid-air.
After realizing that he was inadvertently sticking his rear end into the face of an unassuming middle-aged woman on the platform under him, he politely apologizes and goes back to nonchalantly playing with two feet on the same lower railing. He then lifts his right leg up and places his bow under his knee, serenading us from between his legs, while fearlessly teetering on the edge. Finally, the goblin leaps off the balcony into a bush on a sandy hill, playing all the while to the bewildered applause and laughter of the audience around him.
It’s Eggleston’s second DIO Fest, and he begins by talking in faux-Shakespearean style before switching a modern vernacular.
“Last year was a very big event. For the past year, I’ve been describing it to people as the best show of my life. Which is a lot of pressure to live up to,” he tells us. This year’s DIO Fest, he explains, was something like a second date between himself and the fans.
Eggleston, a virtuoso who got his start playing in bluegrass band Crooked Still, could be called a combination of Steve Martin and Robin Williams—one who happens to be a world-class musician. During the 70-minute set, I probably took in more once-in-a-lifetime onstage antics than I have seen in the rest of my 28 years combined.
A short list of some highlights:
- Eggleston played four songs in a language he made up himself. In the second one, he conceded that one verse didn’t make much sense, but that we wouldn’t know the difference anyway.
- He twice threw an orange 20 feet into the air mid-song only to have it land on his left eye and splatter juice all over those of us sitting in the front row. (He had borrowed the fruit from the crowd to depict a song line about an orange hitting him in the eye.)
- Minutes later, during a tune called “I Love Tofu,” he used the battered orange, which had now fallen into the amphitheater’s fire pit as a prop. To illustrate how he stabs at tofu while eating it, he speared the dirty, ashy orange with his bow, forced it into his mouth and chewed for about 15 seconds. When audience members began wondering whether or not he was going to swallow, he spat the orange high into the air, letting the juice-sticky scraps land on his face—where they remained for the rest of his set.
- He played a rap song that he had written in his head two weeks earlier on a hike but never actually practiced.
- He performed a song about an airplane spirit that could keep someone company in the air—one they may summon whenever they are bored and traveling.
Eggleston also gave instructions on both how to make both cricket sounds—cheapen-cheap-cheapeny—and toad sounds, gricken-abick-croy-boyken. That milieu served as a chaotic, garbled backdrop for one if his nature tunes.
The song was a celebration of the organic chorus that insects and amphibians make in the wild. Near its end, Eggleston stopped all other chirping and calmly hoo-hooed like an owl.
“The owl took a solo, which rang through the forest,” Eggleston sang in the piece, which was inspired by his growing up in the Carmel hills. “They told me Tchaikovsky never played something that cool.”
In addition to cello, Eggleston played banjo and guitar, as well as two kazoos rubber-banded to the headstock of his cello that he used for taking solos.
There were deeper messages about politics and building embedded in some of Eggleston’s monologues. The specifics were obscured—partly by all the other mayhem he was creating and partly because it was difficult to tell when he was taking actual stand on something and when he was simply poking fun. He told us that he felt especially relaxed at this music festival, which largely draws on a community of easy-going, fun-loving, liberal-leaning 20-somethings.
If nothing else, Eggleston’s music is a welcome reminder of what is possible in the world of art—anything the artist can think of.
Eggleston exited playing a song he called “Thank You For Coming to the Show.” He had the audience take over the second verse while he ran up the stairs on his way out of the arena and kept playing. Every time we sang the words “thank you,” he would spin around and yell back “You’re welcome!”
Eggleston finished the ditty with a third and final verse—in his own language, of course—and continued running away.
Scene It All
The festival, a fundraiser for special needs children, hit a number of other high notes.
On Saturday, Kendra McKinley sounded as good as ever playing with the Amaranth Quartet, an all-female string quartet from San Francisco. Her much-loved originals like “Canyon Canon” and “The Bitter Sweet” shone in all their purity with help of the backup of vocalists, like Kelly McFarling, who played a great country rock set of her own with McKinley backing her up.
The Naked Bootleggers knocked out songs at noon in between swigs of whiskey with enough intensity for guitarist S.T. Young to snap a string. They busted out local favorites like “My Hometown” and “I Don’t Want to Go to Work Today,” which got an enthusiastic response from audience members, most of whom had camped just downhill from the stage, far away from their day jobs.
The evening before, jazzy folksters Steep Ravine rocked out in their new setup that features Jeff Wilson on drums and electric bass from Alex Bice, who has switched over from playing upright bass. Songs like “Wildflower Honey” are as catchy as ever, but the group has transitioned away from being a string band into one with more of a folk-rock feel.
Dan P. and the Bricks lifted the crowd into ferociously skank-dancing with tunes like “Map of the Stars” and “Watch Where You Walk” close out Friday night’s set. The band, which has played three out of the four years, is mainstay at DIO.
The show’s skank pit, although exciting, was raucous compared to years past, maybe a little less hug and a little more push—or if you will, a little less skank and a little more mosh.
Perhaps that slightly different vibe embodies a burgeoning music festival that, although not yet experiencing growing pains, can feel a sense on the horizon. The base of the festival is still very much rooted in the small group of friends who started it and who used to hang out at a party house on Jackson Street in Santa Cruz that has since been shut down. But the atmosphere has come to be just a little bit less of an Americana family and a little bit more of a real music festival that people drive from all over California to attend.
This was also DIO Fest’s first year selling day passes for people who only wanted to see Saturday’s shows. It’s an inevitability for any popular yearly event that word will get out, especially when journalists, like myself, keep chronicling the experience. And besides, who would want to keep newcomers from enjoying something so special anyway?
Fortunately, of course, the hootenanny could never be anything resembling Coachella, especially because DIO Fest is limited by the capacity of its parking lots and campgrounds—not that its founders would ever let the fundraiser become commercialized in the first place.
Luckily, too, for the rest of us, no matter how full the festival gets, Camp Krem is still home to sweeping panoramic redwood views with woodsy mountain streams and easy day hikes. Plus, a few characters who work hard every year to make the music happen.