The Infamous Stringdusters will close out the Breckenridge Music Festival Blue River Series at the Riverwalk Center on Sunday, Aug. 10. We caught up with dobro player Andy Hall to learn more about the band, his choice of instrument and whether their latest album ever gets confused with the Disney song of the same name.
SUMMIT DAILY: You’ve toured all over the Colorado High Country. Why do you keep coming back? What’s great about the mountains?
ANDY HALL: Bluegrass and that type of music kind of started in the mountains, so I think there’s some kind of natural resonance there. It could be the level of authenticity that people in the mountains like. What we like about it is the natural beauty, and the people are awesome, and that’s where we’d be spending our time anyway. Playing music in the mountains, especially acoustic music, seems pretty natural.
SD: Guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass — all of those are pretty common to the genre, but not every bluegrass band has the benefit of a dobro. What drew you to that particular instrument? What do you like about it?
AH: The dobro is kind of a versatile instrument. I got into it through blues music, slide guitar, initially through people like Duane Allman. Then I discovered lap-style slide. The sound of that, it has a more sustained sound, you can sort of do more with it if you develop the technique. Bluegrass dobro is an interesting thing. One of the cool things about it is it has a lot of sustainability, which is sort of different from mandolin, banjo, guitar, base. It’s more like a violin in that way; it compliments the staccato of the other instruments.
It has a vocal quality to it. You slide it; there are no frets, so notes blend together as you slide. It has an expressive, vocal sound, and the fact that it’s different drew me to it, too. I started as a guitar player, and there seemed like there were pretty much enough of those. I was drawn to doing something different, and the sound of the slide kind of struck me.
SD: What are some of your musical influences, and how have those influences evolved as your music has grown?
AH: A lot of us didn’t start off listening to bluegrass music. A lot of us came from more of a really jam-band background, or even rock background. We had all gone to see the Grateful Dead many times and Phish shows and also things like jazz, so when we got into bluegrass, each individually, we got really into it and really tried to learn the tradition of it and the language of it on our instruments. It’s something you can’t pick up a little bit at at time; you really have to put a lot of effort into it. Technically, it’s challenging. Once we got into it, we really dove headlong into it.
The band really started in Nashville where we were all kind of learning and playing there, so initially, our influences varied from jam bands and rock, blues, and then it was just a big chunk of bluegrass. … Over time, once again, we’ve expanded sort of back into jam bands and rock, but we have this foundation of bluegrass to bring with us, which makes for a pretty cool circle and a pretty neat combination of sounds.
SD: If you weren’t in a bluegrass band, what kind of band would you be in?
AH: Probably a funk band. I like groove, and rhythmic stuff really gets me excited. There’s a guy I’ve been listening to a lot, Roosevelt Collier, he’s a lap steel guitar player — the electric version of what I do. But he plays a lot of funk and rock, and he’s been a big influence on me here as of late.
Maybe I’d be in a funk band, or I’d love to think I’d be in a jazz band. I’ve spent a lot of time on music, and that one is just tough. Jazz is like bluegrass, you can’t just dabble in it; you have to dive headlong into it for, like, 10 years. You can’t just dabble in bluegrass and be legitimate.
SD: What has the band been up to lately? Where have you been and where are you going?
AH: July was pretty incredible. We started at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, California, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead’s venue. We spent a night there playing Grateful Dead with Phil Lesh, and then a night of our own music. That was pretty incredible. Then String Summit, which is a fantastic festival up near Portland.
We rounded out that tour with a river trip. We, the band, and about 15 fans and eight guides go on the river in the Middle Fork of the Salmon and float 75 miles down this pristine river and float and fish and play music for six days. That was beyond incredible; we just had a blast doing that. It’s a really nice getaway, to make some amazing friends and see this great wilderness.
Tonight, we’re singing the national anthem at the Rockies game.
SD: Have you ever sung the national anthem at such a big venue?
AH: We’ve never worked it up; we’ve never sung it. We got this offer to do this. We’d slip away on the river trip and rehearse. It’s one thing to sing the melody, but we have five people singing a cappella. We’d never done anything like that. It came together pretty quick, and we think we have a nice, solid version. We’re no Whitney Houston, but it’ll be pretty cool.
SD: A cappella? Is that something you do often?
AH: We’ve always had somewhat of an emphasis on singing, as well as picking. The picking we’ve always had fairly well covered. On our last album, we really tried to develop and feature the vocal element of the band. Some of our biggest strides in the last years have been singing — and the songs, as well. Our album, “Let it Go,” the title track is mostly a cappella, some guitar and a little bit of fiddle backup, but it’s five-part harmony, but we’ve been excited to develop that end of things.
AH: The song was written long before we ever heard of “Frozen” or anything. If there’s any confusion, that’s probably great for us. How varied can the message of that title be? I’m sure they are similar; I’m not sure. Maybe we’ll try to find out what Disney movies are doing, and when we are releasing a record, try to piggyback on whatever Disney is doing. Actually, no, we don’t want to do that, ha ha.
SD: When it comes to your performances, is your music pretty clean-cut or do you “dirty” it up from time to time with rambling jams?
AH: We’re always pretty loose and informal on stage; that’s how we’ve always done it and that’s certainly how we like it. We definitely value the integrity of the music, as well as love the rock part. So I think we’re pretty tight as a band and also improvise and jam a lot. I think that’s where things really get dirty and loose and unrehearsed and unknown is in our improv, which we do a lot of. Our shows have a ton of that in it.
It’s fun to be out on a limb not knowing where you’re heading. But you have that sort of musical knowhow to kind of guide you along. When you play an event like WinterWonderGrass — you’re playing outside in Vail in February — you’re needing a lot of whiskey to get through that gig, which makes it pretty dirty.
SD: Anything else you’d like to wax eloquent on?
AH: We’re excited to come to Breckenridge and be there in the summer. For some reason, for us, it’s always been a winter destination, but it’s always a pleasure to go into the mountains in the summer and see all the colorful people up there, so we’re psyched we’re coming up there.