Well, they are most aptly named, The Infamous Stringdusters: there is indeed something deeply infamous about such a happy, strumming, plucking and picking bunch of fellows making musical reverie which they clearly love. Infamy bred in the belly of the beast, welcomed home by the tribe that stokes the fire even while living outside its bounds.
And Stringdusters: Yes, that would be a good word for ones who play so quick and lively, like lightning-like fire, like water flowing over boulders in an incessant stream, or ones barely dusting the strings with their light-tripping fingers and bows, dusting them spotlessly clean, dusting them as in finito, done, dust, nothing left of strings, players, listeners, so fast did the flying notes and music sweep us by.
The show began with the just the gents and their instruments, warming up to an instant frenzy in the “melt-your-face-off,” as-promised way. The Infamous Stringdusters, comprised of the versatile and multi-talented Andy Hall (dobro), Andy Falco (guitar), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle), Travis Book (double bass), and Pandolfi (banjo), brought a touch of cowboy and a lot of bluegrass into the room from their very first notes. High lonesome lyrics, a bevy of songs about wind and rain, home, and loves lost and found, fell over the crowd burgeoning the edges of the floor-bouncing Crown Room.
Expert and masterful from the start, each musician handled lead vocals in turn, with aplomb and crystal clear tonality seamlessly sewn to the impeccably delivered notes of their fine picking and playing. With a fierce-driving fiddle lead, melody lines and harmonizing chords melded into one worshipful whirl of sound and fury, leading the jam on into uncharted waters. Hall’s haunting dobro tones and slides, the athletics and emotional details of Garrett’s fiddle playing, Book’s steady, laughing, rumbling bass line left everyone breathless, time and again.
Meanwhile, as the smoke in the room thickened and the jam intensified, the musicians moved about the stage forming mini-clusters that curved about one another, depending on how the jam progressed. In a delicate, stepping, layered, almost DJ-like-scratching set of sounds, Pandolfi commanded powerful rhythms and melodic cascades from his banjo’s notes.
And early on, the spotlight fell on guitarist Falco, a veritable madman who instigated a wild jam – we’re thick in the huckleberry bushes now, my friends – leaving even the other band members looking on in astonishment and amazement, grinning, laughing, as he branched out further and faster on his guitar’s strings and fret board, finally landing back on perfect point – slowly, deliberately – into the jam’s origination song. Unbelievable. Hot, bubbling jam after jam erupted, swelled, spilled over and resolved through alternating keys, styles, directions, genres and melodies in a mind-bending rain of musical genius.
The Stringdusters are on tour with a variety of guest leading ladies to promote the release of their sixth full-length studio release, “Ladies & Gentlemen.” We here at Tahoe were lucky to receive one of their nights with the elegantly excellent Nicki Bluhm.
In addition to Bluhm and a bevy of other notable chanteuses, from Joan Osborne to Lee Ann Womack, the album also contains vocals from Della Mae’s lead singer Celia Woodsmith, whose band opened the snow. The Stringdusters invited Woodsmith back onstage to join in on a bluesy number in the first set, her sultry voice commanding the melody line, strong, dusky, and sure.
Next, San Francisco local, Tahoe favorite, and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass regular (with her rollicking band The Gramblers), Bluhm let her clear, lilting voice soar over the Crown Room to the absolute pleasure of all in attendance. She noted it’s fun singing with a bluegrass band! A tall, slim, wisp of a gal, be not fooled: the power of this woman’s voice could bowl over a freight train, or slow a coming gale in its feeble steps.
First, she knocked one from the new album, “Have a Little Faith,” out of the park with her lilting, winsome and luminous entreaty to “have a little faith…in yours and mine…in the divine…and we’ll be fine.” I’m sold: with an angel like that to remind us, redemption is surely at hand.
With an intense start to the next song, the band instantly jamming, suddenly Hall’s dobro and Bluhm’s voice launched into Jefferson Airplane’s classic “Somebody to Love.” Belting the familiar lyrics, strong and sultry, Bluhm brought the powerful anthem back to life in a whole new way, backed by the amazing flying fingers of these infamous magicians of sound. With her indelibly clear voice, amazing harmonies from the band, and such incredible musicianship until Book’s deep bass notes bring the jam back around to the beginning, to the end, to a deep breath of a finish – and we all catch our breaths for a second before the next one begins!
In their second set, the Stringdusters invited Della Mae’s mandolin player extraordinaire, Jenni Lyn Gardner, to join them onstage for a Bill Monroe classic. With such grace and skilled command of her instrument, Gardner let loose her flying fingers over chord changes spilling high, sweet notes. The song went on forever, it seemed, as each musician again soloed in turn, from the crazy fiddle to the mad guitar and the calm flurrying mandolin under Gardner’s firm touch.
Welcoming Bluhm back onstage, the playing and singing kept on into the wee hours of the night, but none in the Crown Room cared: such musical minstrels, even among the wonders we know from so many other favorite bands, are not to be missed, even when the hour grows late.
Another look at the Infamous Stringdusters in the Crown Room: LINK
To see the full set of photos by Larry Sabo from the show, click the LINK