Infamous Stringdusters play at 10 Mile Music Hall this weekend
If you go
What: Infamous Stringdusters with Meadow Mountain
Where: 10 Mile Music Hall, 710 Main St., Frisco.
When: Friday, Dec. 28 and Saturday, Dec. 29 at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7. Both shows are sold out.
Closing out a banner year, critically acclaimed The Infamous Stringdusters come to Frisco to play their signature progressive bluegrass this weekend. The sold-out, back-to-back concerts put an exclamation point on their recent mainstream success.
January’s 60th annual Grammys saw the quintet walk home with their first award for Best Bluegrass Album for 2017’s “ Laws of Gravity.” Rare for the Recording Academy and unheard of for the category, The Infamous Stringdusters tied with seven-time nominee Rhonda Vincent. For a band that only had one nomination six years prior, it was “incredible.”
“It was surreal and cool, especially for niche music that doesn’t really roll in that sort of group with ultra famous people,” said Andy Hall, who plays the steel slide guitar known as a Dobro for The Stringdusters. “You won the same thing Michael Jackson won. … That’s one really neat thing about the Grammys. It acknowledges niche, smaller styles, which is a great opportunity for someone like us.”
Hall believes it was the songwriting that set “Laws of Gravity” apart from their earlier works and gave them a leg up in the Grammys. “There were really cool, relatable songs on it infused with the Stringduster sound,” he said. “Also, for a band like us we continue to evolve musically. It’s not like we put out our first record years ago and that was the sound. It’s developed. We’ve gotten better at everything — in singing, in playing, in songwriting.”
In Hall’s mind sharing the award doesn’t diminish the significance. “I have the thing on the shelf,” he said, laughing. “Everyone wins and I think that’s wonderful. I think it’s just as equally great for Rhonda Vincent as it is for us.”
Then a few days later they released Horseshoes and Hand Grenades’ album “The Ode” on The Infamous Stringdusters’ brand-new label, Tape Time Records. Yet two months doesn’t make a year and the band didn’t stop there. They signed Denver-based bluegrass band Meadow Mountain, which will open for them in Frisco. Stringdusters’ banjo player Chris Pandolfi produced the group’s debut album that dropped in November two weeks before digitally releasing “Live From Telluride,” a 20-track recording of The Infamous Stringdusters performance at last year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
The Infamous Stringdusters saw the opportunity to create the label as a musical meeting point for modern, up-and-coming bluegrass bands. By working alongside their management and the other musicians, it cuts out the middleman and focuses more on the art instead of the business, according to Hall.
“We felt like we know how to reach our fans better than anybody,” he said.
Though they want to keep the schedule clear and not oversaturate with new releases, the label could also be an outlet for each member’s solo work. Along with teaching online guitar classes, Hall has three solo albums, an EP, a collaborative steel guitar record with Roosevelt Collier and The Bluegrass Generals with Pandolfi.
‘Acoustic Heavy metal’
For a band fully immersed in bluegrass, it’s ironic that their Dobro player almost went a separate path. Hall spent his childhood going to shows at The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, listening to twangy tunes that were a complete turn off for him.
Instead, he’d rather watch MTV for hours on end, hoping to catch that one music video air again. Hall got his first guitar at 14 and throughout high school he’d shred on it playing rock, heavy metal, fusion, jazz and other sounds. A summer camp at Boston’s Berklee College of Music opened his eyes to being a professional.
“Once I saw there was a future and other people doing the same thing, a community and a culture of being musician, I was in.”
Yet once at the college, a combination of bad tendonitis from practicing and an enthralling box set of bluegrass founder Bill Monroe led Hall to re-examine his calling. “There’s that one musician that switches the light bulb on you and that was Bill Monroe. Bluegrass to me sounded like acoustic heavy metal, it didn’t seem all that different.”
To set himself apart from the multitude of other rockers in his class, while giving his muscles a bit of a break, he took up the Dobro and played it lap style.
“Technically it’s just much easier to do a lot more varying stuff on lap style. If you’re playing regular you’re pretty much playing blues. It’s just a nature on how the slide works on the guitar in that way. But with lap style you can play anything. You can play Indian music, you can play jazz, rock, bebop, bluegrass, whatever you want.”
That versatility allows Hall to pull from a wide range of influences. Along with his rock ‘n’ roll past and being exposed to the eclectic music found at Berklee — such as Afro-Cuban music and Middle Eastern hand drumming — he was introduced to contemporary bluegrass from Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice and Béla Fleck.
“Those guys are what showed me that you didn’t just have to do this very traditional thing,” said Hall. “You can take a lot of the elements of the Monroe thing and play jazz. Learning the roots of bluegrass was learning the foundation of how to play your instrument that you could then take and bring into the wide world of music.”
Shortly thereafter Hall went back to Nashville to perform with legends like Earl Scruggs and Dolly Parton. The Stringdusters formed in 2007 when he met up with Pandolfi — who coincidentally attended Berklee at a different time — and Chris Eldridge. Eldridge left to be with The Punch Brothers and Andy Falco then came aboard. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Infamous Stringdusters may appear to have reached a summit but there’s always a taller mountain to climb. Though no further details are available, the group plans to release a new single in January with a full album dropping in the spring. Until then, fans can catch them Friday and Saturday for a “psychedelic, jazz, bluegrass extravaganza.”
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