FORT COLLINS, Colo. — As he scrambles over rocks and branches near Horsetooth Mountain, Russick Smith scours the Fort Collins landscape for the perfect spot.
He’s not searching for a photo or for a place to rest, but rather a venue for his next concert.
As the sun dips below the horizon, he sets his eyes on a dead pine tree. A recent wildfire has left it stripped of its previous beauty. To Smith, it’s perfect.
Setting up a small ladder, he begins to climb, mounting his makeshift deer stand roughly 15 feet above the ground.
It’s here that Smith has made a name for himself.
“In nature, you’re just playing music for the sake of music,” he said. “It seems like the music resonates at a different level.”
Smith, now 32, started playing the cello when he was just 9.
Just before he turned 30, he realized he needed a change.
“I was feeling a little cynical about re-hashing some of the same old ruts,” Smith said. “I wanted to feel this wondrous feeling that I had never felt before.”
At an art festival in Breckenridge, he saw his chance.
“I just took my cello and put the case on my head, and I borrowed some waders from somebody, and waded out there with my cello, and then sat down and played a concert,” he said. “And people just came and sat down.”
From there, he began experimenting with canopy performances.
“I got a tree stand and I modified it so I could set my end pin down on it, and I went and climbed into this aspen grove and just let people discovery it,” Smith said. “One woman told me she was walking with her friend and she goes, ‘You may call me crazy, but I hear cello music right now.’ And her friend goes, ‘Yeah! So do I!'”
Smith has turned those impromptu performances into regularly scheduled gigs, with people driving from states away to see him perform.
“When you hear of a cellist in trees, it’s like, I don’t know what to expect from this,” he said. “As a result, there are less barriers to pass by for the music to make an emotional connection.”
He routinely performs alone and with his group, aptly named “Tree-O.”
“There’s nothing I feel like that’s off-limits,” Smith said. “If it’s possible, and even if it seems impossible, I’m game. Let’s give it a shot.”