Every year toward the end of the Do-It-Ourselves Festival, Jeff Wilson picks up a banjo, a guitar and a Dobro and heads over to the amphitheater to play. “I just let it all out there. I just show up in the morning and treat it like a gospel-y sort of thing,” explains Wilson.
Two years ago, the festival’s stage on Sunday morning was still wet from an overnight rain and the tarp over a tent above Wilson sagged with a puddle of water. Suddenly, the puddle spilled out from the top of the tent, nearly splashing Wilson, as he tuned up.
“I knew you were gonna do that,” he growled at the tent without looking up, as the small audience chuckled.
Wilson’s curmudgeonly persona is part shtick and part Sunday morning fatigue. The hard-working festival organizer was up late the night before, after all, listening to ska band Dan P. and the Bricks perform a set featuring sing-alongs, happy dances, and even an epic stage dive from frontman Dan Potthast. Wilson had hijacked the mic for a few minutes to grumble about how happy he was and how much he loved everybody.
“I’m always stoked,” Wilson, who sometimes goes by the stage name Birdman, says of his Sunday morning festival routine. “It’s a therapeutic thing for me on Sundays to space out and feel the morning vibes and feel that the festival’s ending.”
This weekend marks the fourth annual DIO Fest at Camp Krem in Boulder Creek. The festival, which runs April 29 through May 1, has announced more sponsors than ever, including Mountain Feed & Farm Supply, and Lagunitas Brewing Company, which is supplying the festival with several kegs of Northern California beer. “Not that it’s a cornerstone of the festival, but we all appreciate beer, and it’s a part of festival culture,” Wilson says. “Financially, it’s going to help us out a lot.”
Wilson, who handles the festival booking, is also bringing in San Diego funk group Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, and Golden Void, a ’70s-style rock outfit, as well as Rushad Eggleston, an eccentric cello player who performed last year. Eggleston, a Carmel resident, is known as much for his virtuosity as he is for his wacky outfits, funny hats and standing up while playing and holding his cello, as if it were a guitar.
“We’re really honored to have him there again. He’s by far the weirdest but also the most prolific and amazing artist that will be at DIO this year,” Wilson says.
When the first DIO Fest kicked off three years ago, many Santa Cruz songwriters who have since blossomed into successful touring acts were still so green that they hadn’t even developed local followings yet. Marty O’Reilly and his Old Soul Orchestra, for instance, had only been together six months. “We were still developing and figuring this out, and we had just recorded our first album,” O’Reilly says. “It was a new festival, and we were very much a new product. We’ve seen each part grow.”
“It’s kind of like a family reunion,” he says of the festival now. “You get to see what everyone has done in the past year and what everyone’s worked on.”
O’Reilly lives at the Tannery Arts Center, although he tours year round. His band released a new EP in December, and their next two-month tour begins in May in Indiana, followed by New York City, Switzerland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Singer-songwriter and Aptos native Kendra McKinley, who, like O’Reilly, played the festival in 2013, says she wouldn’t miss the event because she says she can’t imagine anything better than camping with friends and making music.
“The first year was just nice,” she remembers. “Not one of us could believe that it happened on Sunday. We were all just blissed out and hungover. But we were like, ‘Yep, we’ve been through a music festival, and tomorrow’s Monday.’”
McKinley moved to San Francisco two years ago, and has been playing big shows at venues like the Fillmore. McKinley, whose sound is somewhere between bossa nova and 1960s rock, is releasing a full-length album called Treat this summer, and following it up with a tour.
O’Reilly finds himself constantly telling people about DIO Fest and convincing friends they can’t skip it. The only festival he ever encountered that rivaled it in atmosphere was the Stendhal Festival of Art in Northern Ireland last August, when “it was just pissing rain for two weeks,” he says.
“Everyone is just covered in mud by the end of it because it’s pouring rain, and I didn’t go to bed until 11 in the morning because I was hanging out with all these amazing kids from England and Northern Ireland,” he says. “When festivals get too big, it’s hard to meet people that easily.”
The Do-It-Ourselves Festival starts at 1:50 p.m. on April 29 and runs through May 1. A three-day pass to the festival is $125. A one-day pass is $45. For more information, visit doitourselvespresents.com.