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Petaluma Music Festival preview


A virtual one-man band, Australian multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd took the world-famous Bonnaroo music festival by surprise back in 2004. He mesmerized the Tennessee crowd with rhythmic sleight of hand as he played laptop slide guitar, didgeridoo and a variety of percussion all at the same time.

He has been invited back to Bonnaroo several times since, and every time, no matter the headliner, he draws huge crowds. Just listen to the audience chime in on his 2007 "Live from Bonnaroo" album.

With the festival circuit as his home, he's been a road warrior over the past decade, playing massive outdoor jams all over the world, from Europe to Asia and Australia in between. All the touring and traveling finally caught up with him a few years ago.

His latest album, "Spirit Bird," was "a big benchmark for me on my journey, spiritually and emotionally," Rudd said. "I was really ground down. I got to a point where I had lost myself. l needed country and the land to hold me."

Songs like "Follow the Sun" take the listener on a journey in search of balance and nurturing, with the goal of being one with nature.

Through it all, he's come to a point where he treats his gift much like he does his family.

"I respect my music as I would my grandmother," he said. "I wouldn't tell my grandmother what to wear to church, and I certainly don't tell my music what to do. I let it come through and I'm a vehicle for it, but I really don't understand it."

Before he headlines the Petaluma Music Festival this weekend, Rudd took a tour break to chat about early shyness, the first time he strapped a didgeridoo to a chair and the burden of being named "Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity":

Q: Can you take me back to the first time you assembled a bunch of instruments and realized you could pull off the one-man band thing?

A: I used to play the didgeridoo and that was a separate thing, like a meditation on country and spirit, as a part of my culture. Aside from that, I never really focused on one instrument, but just taught myself to play whatever was around. It was probably about 15 years ago that I first strapped a didgeridoo to a chair with gaffer tape and decided to play it at the same time as a guitar.

Q: Was that kind of a revelation at the time?

A: Yeah, well I'd never heard of it being done before, so it was kind of my own thing I was working out. And then it became really interesting because it just flowed and made sense. Over time, I got a local guy in town to build me a stand, and then I added percussion and bits and pieces, and it just gradually, organically grew and became this big world that I have around me. Sometimes I just look at it and laugh, like how did this happen?

Q: And you're still looking for new ways to make sound?

A: Yeah, always, but getting wiser and older at the same time and realizing I need to work on cutting back on some stuff and refining some of the complicated, intricate systems I had made.

Q: How did you make the transition to the stage?

A: My music was more of an intimate thing, it was really personal. I didn't really play for people even though I grew up writing songs, but always for myself. I was quite shy and it wasn't until some friends said, "You should play those songs for people," that I eventually started playing my original songs for people and my confidence grew.

Q: What was it like to win PETA's "World's Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity" award a few years back?

A: I didn't even know what it was. I was flattered at the same time as being a little embarrassed. I remember I was playing a festival in Belgium and the woman introducing me mentioned it before I came out. And I had been sick, and I had this big beard, and I looked at my drummer and he just laughed. It wasn't hard to imagine people saying, "What, that guy? I don't know about that."

Q: When you're out here in Petaluma, you'll be playing a festival that benefits music programs in schools. Is that a subject near and dear to your heart?

A: Absolutely. Music has been connecting kids and culture and people and environment and spirit since the beginning of time. Every child should have the opportunity to play music.

Bay Area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014, john@sideshowvideo.com and follow on Twitter @becksay.