A Weekend With The Infamous Stringdusters 8.2 - 8.4.13

Words & Photos By Kevin Hahn (Split Open & Shoot Photography)

What do you do when a planned event whether important or not, does not go exactly how you wanted it to? I am talking about something that has been talked about for months, discussed for hours, and even causes a debate about just how awesome it really is from time to time. What am I speaking of you may ask? Well, in my life there are few things that are as special as a weekend spent with The String Cheese Incident in their home away from home, Horning’s Hideout, Oregon. Unfortunately, this year I was not able to financially make the trip work, so I watched as packs of my Cheese Phamily/Friends prepared for the journey and take off down that Cheesy Road. So what to do now? Well, to save the day the amazing state in which I now live in (Colorado) was able to entice one of my absolute favorite bands to come down our way and grace us with their musical brilliance. Not only did they save the day, but also I am pretty god damn sure what I witnessed over those three days was some of the truly best live music I have seen in a very long time.

Who am I speaking of you ask? What band is so brilliant and so uberally-talented that they would make me forget my Cheesy sorrows and just get ready to have one of the best recent musical weekends in memory? This band is just not your typical bluegrass outfit and they for sure don’t play your typical, sometimes twangy, bluegrass tunes. I have written, gawked, and sworn that these guys could not impress me anymore than they already have, but each time I see them live it is truly unlike any five-piece group I have ever seen. Andy Hall, Andy Falco, Chris Pandolfi, Travis Book, and Jeremy Garrett make up one of the most exciting, unique, and downright fucking awesome musical groups that I have ever seen and many of my older Scene-mates will concur. The Infamous Stringdusters not only play bluegrass music, but also they play it to a level of truly unmatched caliber and I legitimately mean that. When attending one of their shows you are not only given the opportunity to hear some amazing picking, but the playful interaction between the five band members and outright exuberance showing on their faces is something you really never see in music these days. My recent journey on this dusty jam-grass filled road started at the beautiful State Bridge Amphitheater in Bond, Colorado. And what a journey it was.

State Bridge
Bond, CO

This was my first time seeing a show at State Bridge. I attended YarmonyGrass a few years prior, but the festival was held up the road at Rancho Del Rio. Arriving to a packed house of smelly wook’s and Colorado music loving freaks is always a good sign and from the looks of how ready people were to rage this was going to be an awesome weekend. Located directly across from the Colorado River, the State Bridge live music experience is truly one not to be missed whenever the chance arises. The venue, now rebuilt after previously burning down, is beautiful and feels like it was meant to be there all along. Incorporating the natural beauty of Colorado, the close proximity to the river (and the Amtrak train-tracks), and having some of the best star-gazing sky you will ever see are just some of the highlights of seeing a show at State Bridge. For me personally, seeing one of the best bands going right now only made the trip more worth the weekend endeavor and just solidified how much I love our Colorado music scene. This particular Stringdusters run was part of their American River’s Tour, which was a specially planned collaboration with the nation’s leading river conservation organization, American Rivers – currently celebrating its 40th anniversary – to raise money and awareness for protecting and restoring rivers and clean water nationwide. Making this State Bridge run even more special was the fact that the Colorado River was just named the most Endangered river according to the American Rivers Foundation, so all the more love for the Stringdusters doing their part in helping our great state of Colorado and it’s incredible natural beauty.

Night one at State Bridge was full of Duster classics and some pure Andy Falco genius-ness. Songs such as "There Ain’t No Way of Knowing," "Echoes of Goodbye," and "Like I Do" pleased the bluegrass-loving crowd and showed off some of the incredible musical elements that the Dusters are becoming known for. Jeremy Garrett is an absolute monster on the fiddle and in my opinion could be (with Jason Carter from the McCoury’s) the most talented fiddle player I have been lucky enough to see play. Garrett comes off as a very soulful and intelligent individual as his hipster looks and brightly colored shirts seem to blend in perfectly with his four other band mates. Garrett possesses the most powerful voice in the group as well (Book’s is deeper, but more soothing) and his vocal prowess was put on full display during Echoes of Goodbye. I love this song, and especially the way in which Jeremy belts out each verse with more passion than the previous. Watching him dip and dive with that fiddle bow in hand is entertaining enough, but throw in the fact that he is fucking amazing on that little hollow-bodied wooden device and that he has the voice of a southern soul singer makes it even more fun to witness.

"17 Cents," "Don’t Think Twice," "It’s Alright," and an insane dedication to two newly engaged friends in the crowd were thrown in the first set with such force that the musical beauty was almost too much to handle. Mr. Andy Falco provided vocals for "Don’t Think Twice" and "It’s Alright," which just about made every woman in the audience fall to their knees as if his guitar skills weren’t enough. The man is a musical machine and the precise timing of each guitar pick or strum is so perfect it would make Billy Nershi cry in appreciation. A well-timed and definitely well-received Police cover of "Walking on the Moon" was a definite highlight and once again proved that these jam-grass playing gentlemen could play pretty much anything if they set their mind to it. As night one wore on, the Infamous Stringdusters continually blew the minds of each person in attendance. It was becoming quite obvious that this weekend was not going to be just a typical trip in many more ways than one. Not only was I surrounded by hundreds of die-hard Duster fans, but also most of the people attending the State Bridge shows were just ready to rage at all costs. This created a very fun, yet rowdy crowd that if you weren’t careful could distract you during the show due to the excess noise and horseplay. But with pieces such as "The Hitchhiker" the Dusters were able to capture that sense of ready to rage energy and put on a clinic of musical epic-ness.

One of their most known songs, "The Hitchhiker," provides a platform for the Infamous Stringdusters to just throw down and show us what they are really made of. Whether it was Jeremy Garrett destroying the fiddle, or Andy Hall furiously ripping that dobro of his, it was all epic in my opinion. The Danny Barnes dance-fest "Get It While You Can" was perfectly placed after hiker and Travis Book used his deep, soothing, and country-ish voice to shake the trees surrounding the State Bridge Amphitheater. With the crowd joining in for a full blown sing-a-long, Book led us jam-grass loving hippies with a smile as big as the Colorado River itself and no matter how much you had drank or smoked already that day your feet were moving as much as physically possible. Having lost the great songwriter JJ Cale earlier in the week the Dusters took part in the jamband scene tribute to the late Cale with a sandwich of the Del McCoury song "Traveling Tear Drop Blues" with the Cale classic "After Midnight." Putting the Cale song in the middle of such a heartfelt and beautiful ballad just felt right and Chris Pandolfi on the banjo was in fine form for this combination. Pandolfi is a banjo-picking wizard and his goofy smile/on-stage personality only play more into the awesome musician he is. He really shined during this section of the show, as he and Andy Hall were able to trade back and forth licks between the banjo and dobro with noteworthy intensity. Additional night one highlights included Andy Falco teasing "Shakedown Street" throughout the night, "Get on Down the Road" had some downright filthy Pandolfi banjo playing combined with some absolutely disgusting dobro-ing from Mr. Hall and The Band’s classic "Cripple Creek" threw the crowd into a frenzy!

As the band exited the stage and all of us hippies filed out of the State Bridge Amphitheater in anticipation of night two, only pure excitement and joy could be felt. There was not an upset, angry, or disappointed person in sight as the Dusters had truly blown people's minds with their jam-grass perfection. So how in the hell would they back up this performance? Well, starting off with "In God’s Country" for night two isn’t a bad way to try and upstage night one as Andy Hall and his dobro played each note with such beauty. Other than Anders Beck from Greensky Bluegrass, Andy Hall is the most impressive dobro player I have ever laid eyes on, and I would be inclined to say that he is, along with Beck, leading the charge to take over Jerry Douglas’ throne atop the world dobro rankings (If there is such a thing). "Well, Well," "Night on the River," and a new Andy Falco song "If I Had a Block of Wood" made their respective ways into the first set of night two and all featured Mr. Falco taking the lead and seamlessly conducting the group through a variety of chord changes and tempo progressions. The bluegrass staple and John Hartford classic, "Steam Powered Aeroeplane," was sung by Travis and featured all five members of the group with small solos throughout. Song after song it was evident that the Duster boys had not decided to take it easy for night two and I was pretty sure that Jeremy Garrett was going to break his fiddle in half at one point during the set.

With set one in the books and the last set of the State Bridge weekend coming up it only seemed right that the crowd stepped it up a notch party-wise and started drinking and smoking anything they could their wook-ish hands on. The energy level sky-rocketed in anticipation for the second set and the Infamous Stringdusters seemed to join the rage-fest from the get go as they embarked on what would become an hour and fifty-one minute long second set/encore. Yes, you read that correctly, one hour and fifty one minutes of pure jam-grass epicness with each member of the Dusters taking the lead from one song to the next. I am not joking when I say this, nor do I say this very often, but this second set could be one of the absolute best sets of music I have ever heard. Beginning with the beautiful Andy Hall sung ballad "Tears of the Earth," set two was out to a great start. Hall has a twangy and very unique vocal style, which perfectly blends in with his dobro sound and provides a great foundation for any bluegrass number. One of my personal favorite Duster tunes "I’ll Get Away," which prominently features fiddle player Jeremy Garrett on lead vocals, was more beautiful than usual with the State Bridge vibe now in full force.

"All the Same," "My Destination," and "Lovin You," which are all Duster songs, made their way into the second set and each let a different member of the band take their turn at lead vocals. Whether it was Jeremy Garrett, Travis Book, or Andy Hall belting out the lyrics to the respective song, they each have a beautiful and unique voice which plays perfectly into the way the Dusters do things. They are a group of five insanely talented individuals who have come together for the common good of us all and decided to make music together for hopefully a good while to come. What comes next is hard to put into words... for a tribute to the father of jambands Mr. Jerry Garcia and his August 1st day of birth, the Dusters decided to do a run of Grateful Dead/Jerry songs that would make any DeadHead proud. The songs included "Deep Elem Blues" > "Let It Go" > "He’s Gone" > "I Know You Rider" > "Jack-a-Roe." This run of songs was pure bliss in my opinion. The vocal harmonizing during "Let It Go" brought the crowd to a silent halt as the five voices combined to make one of the best versions of that song truly come to life. It was awesome to see the Duster boys take songs that so many people know, love, and appreciate while putting their own spin on it and doing it their way. It was an amazing sight to witness, and I am sure that Mr. Garcia was smiling down upon us dancing hippies while his famous lyrics rang up to the insane amount of stars above.

As the Infamous Stringdusters treated us to a "Keep on Truckin" in their double encore it was hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else in the world at that moment. Yes, I missed Cheese and all of the glory of Horning’s Hideout, but what I was able to witness and enjoy from the Dusters over those two days at State Bridge were seriously mind-blowing. Andy Falco is an absolute flat-picking guitar genius whose good looks and hipster vests only add to the aura of fucking awesome which he possesses. Andy Hall always has an intense look of musical ferocity on his face, but watching him move around stage in unison with his partners is a thing of beauty. Mr. Chris Pandolfi on the banjo (now a resident of our great state) is a wizard when it comes to laying down the picking line, and his goofy way of smiling throughout the weekend was contagious for all. Travis Book and his beefy bass provide a soothing and safe feeling, while it seems that he wouldn’t mind putting down a beer or two on the best of days. Lastly Jeremy Garrett, or as I say the soul of the Dusters, is absolutely incredible on the fiddle and has a voice to match. There can never be too much soul in a band, and Garrett definitely brings it on heavy with each song he takes the lead for. Really, is there anything wrong with this band?

I am ready to roll and head out on Duster tour. I am sold on this band, 100%. For a band to take my mind off the despair of missing the magic of Horning’s Hideout is a tough thing to do, and the Dusters not only made me not miss being at Cheese, but they made me forget about it completely. The Infamous Stringdusters are one of the most talented quintets on the scene right now, and I promise they will be here to stay. Do not miss them at Cervantes on September 13th as it will be one hell of a journey.

Bellvue, CO

Did I really need to go see the Infamous Stringdusters for a third night in a row? Was seeing them at the legendary Mishawaka Amphitheater on the Poudre River really worth the four hour drive from State Bridge? The answers to both of those questions are a resounding and extremely warranted "Fuck Yes." There are not many bands that are worth the time and effort for such an endeavor, but the Dusters are one of them. Also, I had not been to the Mish since the Poudre Canyon fire the year before so the experience would be more of a welcoming back for a lot of us music loving Colorado hippies. Other than State Bridge, the Mish is one of the more scenic music venues you will ever attend a show at and the Dusters definitely brought the heat for their early-Sunday show. "Colorado," "Masquerade," and "Tears of the Earth" were three highlights of the first set as the Dusters seemed to be truly enjoying the calmness and joy of this Sunday show. "Colorado" received a long ovation for its lyrics describing everything that seems to be amazing about our state. The Phish song "Free" was covered with a well received sing-a-long as the Mish crowd seemed to really appreciate the Dusters digging deep into their catalog. "Like I Do" closed out the first set with a rocking Jeremy Garrett fiddle solo that almost buckled my knees with the amount of notes and intense tone changes he utilized.

"Night on the River" opened the second set and seemed to fit perfectly with the Mish now having re-opened the river section of the venue to much delight from its paying patrons. The Dusters seemed to not miss a beat on night three of this American River Tour and the last two nights up at State Bridge didn’t seem to have left them too tired to rock it the fuck out. "I’ll Get Away," the Grateful Dead classic "Let It Grow," and "Uncle Pen" got the Fort Collins crowd rocking and rolling with varying solos coming from Andy Falco on one side and Andy Hall on the other. "Walking on the Moon," another cover (by Police), provided Travis with a vocal platform and let him mesmerize all of those in attendance. I couldn’t help but be continually impressed with each performance the Dusters gave. Even though they were playing some of the same songs from the epicness of State Bridge, it felt as if a new spin was being put on them. With Pandolfi and Andy Hall leading the way for most of the night, the Dusters charged through their second set with a Sunday night ferocity that is very uncommon for traditional bluegrass bands. Sunday’s are known for being a slow and calm evening, but with the Dusters that was the complete opposite of what took place.

Never miss a Sunday show... ever. That is a motto I abide by after missing a few earlier on in my musical event-attending career and thankfully I still adhere to this rule to this day. This Mishawaka Sunday Dusters show was just a pure continuation of the rage and party that was seen at State Bridge the two nights prior. This band just doesn’t stop and the fans seemed to not want to stop either. The Mish was a perfect place to end the Colorado portion of this American River Tour, and what a night it really was. Song after song the Dusters killed it, and pieces such as "Jack-A-Roe" and "Ain’t No Way of Knowing" really got the crowd into it and showed us the skill and talent the Dusters hold within them. I did not want the music to stop, but when it finally did and the three-night run was concluded there were so many good memories it was hard to remember them all. From good friends, to great camping, to some of the seriously best live music I have seen in a very long time the Infamous Stringdusters and their American River Tour are always welcome back to our great state of Colorado. Whether it is at State Bridge, the Mish, or Cervantes in September, the Dusters are a band that no one should miss and everyone needs to see.

"You don’t know where you’re going, and you don’t know where to go." These lyrics stayed with me throughout the weekend, as I really do think at the moment I did know where I was going. I was going to two of the most epic music venues known to man to see one of the most talented and exciting bands going today. As well, was going to hang out with one of my best buddies and enjoy what Colorado had to offer. What a weekend, what a trip, and what a journey. Just make sure to take a chance and let it go...

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