The Infamous Stringdusters, The California Honeydrops & Karina Rykman 5.26.22

Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre
Morrison, CO

Words by Kevin Hahn
Photos by Nancy Isaac Photography

There are not many better things to do in Colorado, or dare I say the world, than enjoying any band on a perfectly warm night inside Red Rocks Amphitheatre. There is just something special about the place when the wind isn’t howling, making the sound not great from time to time. Or when there’s no threat of a much needed but always annoying to deal with torrential rainstorm. When you can clearly see Denver to the east, plus the growing suburban metropolis of Littleton and Lakewood to the south. When that descent up the ramp or murderous climb up those damned stairs actually doesn't make you sweat on your way into the show. When a jam scene star in the making, opens up for a crowd that might have no idea who she is. For two other bands that each have extremely loyal followings who could easily sell out most smaller venues around this glorious state somehow fitting all into one beautifully impressive night of music. Those lucky enough to see Karina Rykman, the California Honeydrops, and The Infamous Stringdusters last week know exactly what I am referring to.

To be honest, I was a bit confused when I first saw this bill and the combo of bands on it. Karina Rykman comes from the Marco Benevento world, heavily influenced by funky drum/bass combos that shake one to their inner musical core. The Drops are one of the most interactive, fun, and New Orleans influenced soulful bands touring these days with a lead singer that can rival anyone on tone and pitch range. And then you have one of my absolute favorite groups, The Dusters, who have truly become a twangy bluegrass jam monster, headlining Red Rocks for the 3rd time to their crazy dedicated “Jamily.” How was this all going to work? Would the crowd be able to handle the back and forth combination of musical genres? 

Karina got us started, and not surprisingly I think some of the audience who got there early to lockdown seats for the other two bands were a bit thrown off by the overall heaviness of her playing. For someone like me who loves funky in your face basslines Karina is a joy to watch and the energy she plays with on stage is just great. While the bluegrass loving Red Rocks crowd did sit down for most of her set there were some definite dance-worthy highlights. “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads, a “So Fresh and So Clean” sample woven into a jam, and the closing original song of “Elevator” were very fun, smoothly played, and got my feet moving from the get go. You could tell how thankful Karina and her band were to be there playing Red Rocks for the first time, and next time I’m sure the crowd will be better prepared for the funk she brings. The Drops were next and all nine members came on stage to a thunderous Red Rocks roar. 

I have been listening to the Drops for a long time now, being introduced to them years ago upon a Jam Cruise where you could find various members all over the ship jamming in the hallways, atriums, elevators… You name it and a Drops member was probably there at one point or another playing a kazoo, or banging on spoons, or any other sort of wacky musical instrument they could get their hands on. They are fun to watch, incredibly easy to dance to, and have a way of connecting to their audience that most bands dream of. And it all starts with their lead singer, trumpet player, and seemingly band leader, Lech Wierzynski. This guy has a voice from whatever version of higher power you believe in. He can hit all notes, fit all shapes/sizes of songs, and is unmatched in this jamband world we all live in. From the opening notes of “Brokedown,” Lech was on fire in his yellow suit jacket leading the Drops through a variety of their hits incorporating the crowd in numerous call and response sections throughout. With former Motet member and Colorado resident Scott Messersmith crushing the percussion scene behind him Lech and the Drops kept us entertained throughout their entire set with many funky band iterations (tuba on bass was a highlight) and got the crowd nice and loose for the night’s main headliner, The Infamous Stringdusters. 

Playing without guitarist Andy Falco due to a family emergency, the Dusters made sure to call in a worthy replacement for this celebration on the Rocks. Mr. Jon Stickley, a close friend of Travis Book’s and a longtime favorite of the “Jamily” was gracious enough to jump in for this tour and was thrown into the deep end from the get go. Leading Stickley through the ever-evolving world of Duster jamming Andy Hall and Jeremy Garrett were outright ridiculous with every aspect of their playing. Both can sing, absolutely destroy their respective dobro/fiddle solos, and bring so much professionalism to the stage each time they step on it. “I Didn't Know”, “Sirens”, “Colorado”, and “Well Well” were just some of the major jam-filled highlights of the night and Stickley did a fantastic job keeping up with his talented friends. Book gave us his trademark beautiful baritone voice while thumping the bass, and while banjo’ing his way into our hearts, Panda wore a hat that would make Jerry Douglas smile from ear to ear. 

But being in Colorado and having access to so many of their friends close by we were given a Paul Hoffman of Greensky Bluegrass sit-in as well. To the delight of the Red Rocks crowd Andy Hall gave us the opening licks of the Greensky favorite “Living Over” with Hoffman’s mandolin and sulky deep voice leading the Dusters throughout. For the encore, all bands joined the Dusters on stage and we were treated to the crowd pleasing “I Shall Be Released” with Karina, Lech, and Hoffman each taking solos/singing verses. The night was as close to perfect as one can get in the hallowed crater of Red Rocks Amphitheatre and it only can get better as the weather continues to improve over the next couple of months. Just remember to always bring a raincoat just in case.

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