The Infamous Stringdusters return to Frisco for back-to-back concerts
Dobro player Andy Hall talks latest records
This spring could be a sort of deja vu for The Infamous Stringdusters. In 2018, the progressive bluegrass band played at Frisco’s 10 Mile Music Hall after tying with Rhonda Vincent for Best Bluegrass Album at the Grammy Awards. The group will return to the venue this weekend, and in April they’ll find out if a third nomination leads to a second win up against Vincent, Sturgill Simpson, Béla Fleck and Billy Strings.
The nominated record is 2021’s “A Tribute to Bill Monroe,” a seven-track homage to the father of bluegrass. Monroe’s music is what led Andy Hall to pick up the steel slide guitar known as a Dobro for The Stringdusters, and he said giving the covers a unique sound was a fun experience.
“We don’t even have a mandolin in the band, and there’s a mandolin on the cover of the album,” Hall said. “I kind of like that. It tickles my sense of rebelliousness within the traditional bluegrass world.”
The catalog of choices was vast, so each band member just picked one or two of their favorites.
Hall selected “Toy Heart,” which he sings on, and “Sitting Alone in the Moonlight.” The classic melodies and instrumentation are what appealed to him, but Hall noted that Monroe was creative and covered much ground sonically, making him more than just the genre.
“It’s amazing how much variety Monroe had,” Hall said. “I think that’s why he’s my favorite of the traditional artists.”
Another highlight is “The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake,” which Hall likes because of its dissonance. The notes are upbeat, yet when one listens to the lyrics, they’ll realize it’s a dark and bizarre story. Hall said the interesting dichotomy is actually common in bluegrass, including songs by the Stringdusters like when they delve into politics and other themes.
“A Tribute to Bill Monroe” was possible because of downtime due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hall said it was something they’ve always wanted to record since they frequently play the standards live, but it wasn’t prioritized until they made time during the pandemic to do so. That’s also why the Stringdusters came out with the Christmas album “Dust the Halls” in 2020.
What: The Infamous Stringdusters with Tejon Street Corner Thieves
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 25, and Saturday, March 26. Doors open at 8 p.m. Both shows are sold out.
Where: 10 Mile Music Hall, 710 Main St., Frisco
With songs recorded in advance to give it a proper release, Hall said it was funny to be recording holiday tunes in May and June. But he’s glad that he was able to work on a lighthearted project with little pressure.
“You’re not making your huge, artistic mark on the world with your Christmas record,” Hall said. “It’s just something fun to do. It was just kind of nice that way.”
Hall used the quiet year to slow down. The band’s March 2020 performance at the Belly Up in Aspen ended up being its last for six months, and there was only one in-person show in 13 months.
“In a way, I was taking advantage of a moment to rest after 15 years of hard touring,” Hall said. “… I used it as an opportunity to get good sleep, exercise and be healthy and go camping and work on music.”
Like other bands, Hall said the 16-year-old group was figuring out how to navigate the industry’s changing landscape. He called the previous years a bit of a rat race and said the pandemic brought them purpose as they analyzed why they tour and how much they want to enjoy it.
“It shook things up and made us reassess everything,” Hall said. “It’s really brought us back to just appreciating music and being grateful for whatever comes our way.”
The Stringdusters did some weekly livestreams called SDTV to keep the band and fans together while apart, and the Colorado members — Hall, Chris Pandolfi and Jeremy Garrett — played a few times as a trio. In between, they were writing and recording albums remotely and sending tracks to one another.
The latest, “Toward the Fray,” is a product of 2020 in that regard and others. The title track, as well as “I Didn’t Know,” deal with Black Lives Matter and the murder of George Floyd. As an all-white band, the songs are about recognizing one’s privilege, realizing how bad it is for people of color and not turning a blind eye to systemic racism.
Hall said the songwriting was honest. The musicians aren’t saying they know how to fix injustice or have all of the answers, but they’re announcing that they’re available as allies. The album title refers to addressing the problems head on.
“It’s the hard but good work that needs to get done,” Hall said. “It’s looking and addressing difficult things, but in a lot of ways, it has hope because you’re trying. You’re facing the things that in society, maybe within you, you want to help change and grow.”
Evidence of using serious material like Monroe did can also be found in the cover art. Right on the front, “Toward the Fray” features a young girl wearing a gas mask in an apocalyptic city scene that deviates from the brighter and lighter covers that came before. The art was Hall’s idea and stems from his love of heavy metal. Tattoo on his chest is an illustration similar to Judas Priest’s “Screaming for Vengeance” album, and he wanted a comparable vibe to tackle the environment, racial injustice and other issues.
“These things are falling down around us … but the children of today are the ones that are going to have to do the work and pick up the pieces for the mistakes that our generation and older generations have made,” Hall said about the art. “She’s got to go toward the fray in life and address whatever is out there.”
The Frisco concerts are sold out, but some of The Stringdusters will return to Summit County next month for Toward the Fray-Basin, a concert event at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area on April 16. Hall said the band’s music will be played on lifts and that the collaboration beer made with Station 26 Brewing Co., called Toward the Fray IPA, will be available. There also might be a giveaway of Meier skis featuring the album art.
Joining the musicians are The Sweet Lillies, other artists from American Vibes — a rebrand of their Tape Time record label — and special guests.
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