Novato’s Dirty Cello Plays Iceland, Touring the Country’s Most Unusual Venues

Novato-based band Dirty Cello has played virtually all of Marin’s music venues over the years, from Sweetwater Music Hall and the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley to stages at the county’s many summer outdoor concerts series. But the band, helmed by cellist Rebecca Roudman, who grew up in San Rafael, also has a reputation for playing its foot-stomping brand of blues, bluegrass and rock at far-flung international locales, as well as unconventional venues close to home.

“We operate on a philosophy of never saying no to an exciting show,” says guitarist Jason Eckl. “We’ve played everywhere from the bottom of a cave to giant venues in China. We were in Israel not that long ago, and we once played in a 13th century abbey in the hills of Italy. During quarantine, of course, the places we’ve played got even weirder. We’ve done everything from concerts at the Oakland Zoo for the animals — not for people! — to all sorts of outdoor block parties and a 6:30 a.m. concert online for European Google.”

While Dirty Cello had to put international touring on hold for a time due to the pandemic, the group once again hit the road recently for an adventure-packed series of shows in Iceland. “We were the first American band to come back to Iceland since quarantine,” Roudman says. “From playing tiny villages with a population of 40 people where the whole town came out, to storied venues that are famous in Iceland, we had a crazy time. One place held an American Cowboy Festival in our honor, complete with Icelandic folk dressing up as their version of an American cowboy, a baked bean barbecue and beer-drinking contests. We even found ourselves playing in the remains of an old fish-processing plant with faint odors of processed herring still lingering.”

Here’s the band performing some Viking-inspired music in a recreation of a Viking-era church during their tour:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Dirty Cello (@dirtycello)


Highlights from Iceland

The Blue Church, Seyðisfjörður

The Blue Church, Seyðisfjörður

“Nestled deep within a fjord, this traditional Icelandic church usually plays host to classical music, but we made quite a splash,” Roudman says.

Stop 2: The Green Hat, Akureyri

The Green Hat is considered one of the most storied and historical music venues in Iceland, and people travel four, five and six hours from all over the country to see bands play here.

Stop 3: Baran Bar, Þórshöfn

“We left civilization behind and headed to the far northern tip of Iceland to the town of Thor’s Harbor, where we played at the only venue/restaurant/hotel for literally 100 miles,” Roudman says.

Stop 4: Ja Saell, Fjardarborg

“Next, we went to the village where Icleandic folk vacation, and the quirky community there hosted the Cowboy American Festival with most of the town dressing up,” Roudman says. “They also made us an American barbecue featuring baked beans, chicken wings and coleslaw.”

Stop 5: Old fish silo, Hjalteyri

“In the tiny town of Hjalteyri, population 44, we played in the converted remains of a giant silo that was once used to process herring,” Roudman says. “We inaugurated it as a concert venue, and out of the 44 people in the town, we somehow drew an audience of 68!”

More from Marin:

Lotus AbramsLotus Abrams has covered everything from beauty to business to tech in her editorial career, but it might be writing about her native Bay Area that inspires her most. She lives with her husband and two daughters in the San Francisco Peninsula, where they enjoy spending time outdoors at the area’s many open spaces protected and preserved by her favorite local nonprofit, the Peninsula Open Space Trust.