Photo: Just Plain Folk: The Fiddlers 4, with Carmel grad Rushad Eggleston on the far right.
Rushad Eggleston is not a serious guy. Sure, he picked up the violin at three, mastered it, then moved on to the cello when he was nine. On a whim five years ago he entered a competition for a full-ride scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He won, and is on his fifth and final year there. It could also be mentioned that Rushad, along with the rest of the Boston-based Fiddlers 4, was nominated for a Grammy this year in the category of traditional folk. But Rushad still isn''t a serious guy.
I''ve known him for over seven years. The gosh golly factor of a person, even as famous a person as Rushad is getting to be, is greatly reduced when you''ve known one another since you were dorky teenagers at Carmel High. Still, he was nominated for a Grammy. He didn''t win, but he''s got time for that. He''s just getting started, after all.
As prestigious as his school is, and as formidable as he is as a cellist, it is evident that in Rushad''s mind there''s a lot more to the world than the confines of formal education and playing in other peoples'' bands.
"I''ve been focusing at Berklee on being a good cello player, which isn''t a very personal thing," he says. "This past year I''ve been exploring the more personal aspects."
Not to say that he''s not digging the learning process. "Right now," he says, "everything is totally set up for me, but I''m kind of looking at it like it''s preparing me for my own thing when I come out with it."
Lest you begin to think Rushad does indeed sound pretty darn serious, let me explain that we''re walking down Ocean Avenue in Carmel while we''re having this conversation. There''s a large bell on display in the middle of the street. He runs over and rings the bell. He runs back over to me. He moves constantly, frenetically, dancing around the sidewalk, gesturing wildly, saying bizarre things. He''s like an attention span-challenged ten-year-old. When we get to our destination--a Thai restaurant--he starts speaking so fast I can''t write down all the weird and awesome ideas he''s throwing out at me.
How, one might ask, does a child decide to start playing the violin at three? His mother clearly had something to do with it. The eldest of three children, Rushad got an early start in music because his parents feel passionately about it. He switched to the cello when he was nine, again at his mother''s request. She told him the cello is, he says, "much less squawky."
After awhile, classical music didn''t hold the same appeal it once had for him. "AC/DC and Nirvana kinda made me forget for a couple years," he says. "I saw the cello in its case and I felt sort of guilty, then I picked up my guitar and played whatever I wanted to play." At 14, Rushad started listening to Metallica. "Some of these metal guys have a neo-classical thing going on," he says. "I got back into Vivaldi, and started trying to play it on the electric guitar."
Then, yet again, his mother stepped in. "I went to the Carmel Bach Festival with my mom," he explains. "I saw a cellist playing there. So I got back into it, decided to play some really hard stuff. I practiced every day." He decided that, this time, he was going to be an amazing cellist, and he worked his ass off to become one.
Then came the scholarship. "I first heard about it in the paper," he says. "They were looking in Northern California for students to go to Berklee. I got excited for a couple of days and then forgot about it. My dad was very influential, saying ''all you have to do is make a tape''. So I made a tape. The tape got me into a qualifying round, with like 10 people, so I had to go to the jazz festival and audition. And this was a really cool audition, I could just sort of do my own thing."
His own thing seems to have worked well for him. After all, he''s going to a prestigious (and expensive) music college for free. Now that he''s getting ready to move on in his life, he''s focused more on his personal tastes and musical goals.
So, what kind of music does Rushad want to play for himself? "I have a hard time defining it. I call it ''wild music of Snee.''" Snee is, of course, Rushad''s home planet, the melodies of which he can only hope and try to reproduce for the rest of us here on Earth. At least, that''s how he tells it to me.
"I try to represent my deeper imagination, and all the creatures I see in my head all the time. Lots of me writing my own music now is influenced by meeting this father of my mind. He''s this little yellow character, a little humanized walrus with no tusks. He''s responsible for everything I do, so I started to wonder, well, what do you do?"
What did the yellow, tuskless walrus say? "If there''s any way I could capture that idea," Rushad mourns. "That''s one of my biggest goals."
Okay. Normally when my interviewees start gibbering on like this I quickly and politely make my exit. But with Rushad, it''s different. Everything he''s saying makes sense in a weird way. And who am I to judge? He just got nominated for a Grammy.
My favorite point in the interview happened before we were officially on the record. Walking down the street towards the restaurant, Rushad and I were catching up on life since high school. I told him about how much I liked Berklee during my brief time there, and he said he thought it was great that I''m a writer. We chatted about our chosen paths for awhile, and then he said, "It''s wonderful to get to do what you love." And we, both of us practically still kids, smiled smugly at one another because, well, we get to do what we love. And it''s pretty wonderful.
Rushad Eggleston occasionally still graces the Monterey Peninsula. Visit www.rosebudus.com/Fiddlers4 for more information about his Grammy-nominated group.