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Review: Renegade Orchestra rocks Blue Note Napa

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Renegade Orchestra performed at Blue Note on Feb. 3. 

Last week I had the privilege of seeing a live music performance put on by what might be one of my new favorite local acts, and that would be a not-so-little group called the Renegade Orchestra.

Normally composed of more than two dozen virtuosos of their respective instruments, the group performed at Blue Note Napa on Thursday, Feb. 3, featuring eight of their best players, or as Conductor Jason Eckl put it, “as many of us as can fit on the Blue Note stage.”

Renegade Orchestra describes their sound as “the beauty of a symphony, (with) the soul of a rock band” and in this writer’s opinion, that description could not hit closer to the mark.

Audience members crowded into booths and high-top tables in the newly renovated nightclub. Nestling into a seat in a new elevated section where Blue Note’s old bar used to be (it now takes up about a third of the real estate that it had previously), the club’s familiar deep blue lighting reminded me of a time before the pandemic when I used to watch live music acts there almost weekly. Some faces were familiar, most were new, but the energy of anticipation and a passion for entertainment was shared by all in the room.

The crowd hushed as the lights dimmed and the performers took to the stage, while a disembodied voice announced the band and welcomed patrons back to the venue. The players quickly tuned their instruments and then, without warning, every audience member and employee alike were suddenly and unapologetically exposed to a ripping orchestral version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” dominated by Rebecca Roudman on the cello.

Dazed and confused, I gaped up at the stage at first in shock, then in a stupor, and then in pure unadulterated joy as I was suddenly reminded of the power that live music can bring. Mr. Eckl introduced the performers, who followed their jaw-dropping opener with a driving rendition of Nicole Simone’s “Sinnerman.”

It became very apparent early on that the Renegade Orchestra was determined to keep its audience on its toes by doing the opposite of what one might expect at all times. Nevertheless, audience members sang, danced, and clapped along to a truly eclectic variety of tracks including “California Dreamin” by The Mamas & The Papas, “Zombie” by The Cranberries, and “I Feel Love” by disco legend Donna Summer.

Many of the songs they performed were some of the last songs I would think of as being suitable for orchestral arrangement — including a cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” arranged by the group’s electric bassist Greg Studley, as well as a version of “Helter Skelter” by The Beatles that lost none of the original’s heavy metal attitude — but the arrangements were masterfully crafted and they just worked so well.

As the night went on, the group continued to perform a variety of eclectic pieces that highlighted each instrument on stage including three violins, viola, cello, upright bass, electric bass, and drums. Every performer was given either a solo or a full piece to show off their respective skill set, and the applause grew louder and louder with every song. After an hour and a half of non-stop music, the group received a standing ovation from the audience as the players took their final bow.

Renegade Orchestra currently has two upcoming performances: one in Richmond at Riggers Loft on March 5, and the other in Somerset at Mediterranean Vineyards on May 28. Their music can be found on YouTube and on their website

If there’s one piece of advice I would give to anyone interested in seeing this group perform, it would be to expect the unexpected, or better yet, leave your expectations at the door and go in prepared for a ride. If there’s one thing that’s for certain, it’s that this writer will be catching them again the next time they perform in town.

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