Dusting Through the South
Stand and wear comfortable shoes, because nobody sits at a Stringdusters show.
By Todd Powers
The landscape of American roots music is undergoing an innovative resurgence. Americana has reentered the American musical vernacular with widespread acclaim as a fresh generation of ingenious musicians proliferates from the confines of the Appalachian corridor. A new assemblage of audiophiles is joining the ranks of traditional bluegrass aficionados, creating a music scene that is innovative as it is distinctive. Historically, the string band has been a significant element of the American music tradition. While storied traditionalists such as Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson have long dominated the conventional bluegrass landscape, a youthful movement of non-traditionalists is pushing the envelope of possibility for the modern string band. The Infamous Stringdusters, a band with a flair for the live performance and heirs to this rich musical heritage, are working their way through music hall and festival circuit, winning adherents to their distinctive brand of bluegrass.
Not content to rest on convention, the five-piece ensemble of Jeremy Garrett (fiddle), Andy Hall (dobro), Chris Pandolfi (banjo), Andy Falco (guitar) and Travis Book (bass) have ventured into a world characterized by sacrosanct traditionalism and remade that world according to an inventive vision all their own. Originally joining forces at an International Bluegrass Music Association jam session, the Stringdusters initial chemistry evolved into an unremitting rapport. Achieving early success in 2007 with their debut album, “Fork in the Road,” The Stringdusters won IBMAs for Song of the Year, Emerging Artist of the Year and tied for Album of the Year with bluegrass master J.D. Crowe. The accolades have continued as The Stringdusters earned both a Grammy nod for Country Instrumental of the Year for their album, “Things That Fly,” and Entertainer of the Year in 2011. Building on a solid musical foundation, notoriety has become widespread as The Stringdusters receive critical acclaim from the likes of The New York Times.
While extrinsically impressive, a mantle of industry hardware is only a footnote to The Stringdusters’ live experience. Traversing the fringes of multiple modern musical movements, the Stringdusters seamlessly integrate essences of bluegrass, Americana, county and rock into their live performances. With an extensive catalog of road-tested originals and novel covers, The Stringdusters amalgamate traditional bluegrass with improvisational jams to create an inimitable performance. Covering ground from Bill Monroe to Jerry Garcia, Lester Flat to The Police, The Stringdusters have advanced the margins of traditional bluegrass with high levels of energetic expression. Melding diverse influence with raw talent, The Stringdusters have also created a distinctive style that reflects both youthful exuberance and seasoned acumen.
A heavy schedule of non-stop national touring has helped The Stringdusters to hone their respective musical skills while proselytizing converts along the way. Repeated high-quality shows have created a burgeoning fan base of dedicated followers. As popularity has increased, The Stringdusters have taken measures into their own hands. Transitioning from the inherent traditionalism of the Nashville market, The Stringdusters have found a home in Charlottesville, Virginia, a home which mirrors both their musical approach and lifestyle. Keeping with the Virginia motif, The Stringdusters started their own music festival, The Festy Experience, in Nelson, County, now in its fourth year. The Stringdusters continue to tour heavily, recently completing a Ski Tour in the Rockies and a taping of the PBS series “Bluegrass Underground” with friends Yonder Mountain String Band, The Wood Brothers and The North Mississippi Allstars.
Hitting the road with the Stringdusters in early March for a show at Chattanooga’s Track 29 provided a welcomed baptism into Stringdusters’ culture. Followed by a multitude of exuberant hipsters, mainline hippies and conventional bluegrass enthusiasts, the eclectic mass purveyed a welcoming atmosphere buzzing with anticipation. High energy and perpetual motion ensued as The Stringdusters romped through a healthy dose of inventive originals and vivacious covers. The symbiotic relationship with the audience was instantly recognizable.
Feeding off collective energy, The Stringdusters toiled in unison with the audience toward melodic rapture for well over two hours. Highlighted by crowd favorites Hitchhiker, Fork in the Road and No More to Leave You Behind, the Chattanooga show validated The Stringdusters reputation for fluid extemporization as each number received extended treatment. In addition to expeditious originals, The Stringdusters treated the crowd with notable covers including John Hartford’s Steam Powered Aeroplane, Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice is Alright and The Police’s Walking on the Moon. Smiles of delight abounded as The Stringdusters wound down a vigorous night of musical exploration well after midnight. Wrapping up, the audience showered the band with and appreciation as the band offered genuine gratitude for the night’s festivities.
The Infamous Stringdusters continue their romp through the South with shows on March 15 in Atlanta, March 16 in Raleigh, North Carolina, March 30 in Richmond, Virginia, and more North Carolina and Virginia dates in April. Click here for The Stringdusters complete tour schedule.
All photos by Todd Powers.
Todd Powers is a photographer and writer living in North Alabama. His main focus is music, particulary jambands and bluegrass. He currently write reviews for Jambands.com/Relix and the Valley Planet in Huntsville and submits photography to Bluegrass Today. When he’s not listening to or writing about music, Powers is at his day job as an assistant principal at an elementary school and also finishing his doctorate.