by Gavin Heaney
Bluegrass is the misfit mountain dweller who lives on the outskirts of town, the wilding wedding crashing cousin of country music. It’s the biggest baddest campfire sing-along and group jam-sesh available in American music. At bluegrass festivals, there are workshops and picking circles, even competitions open to anyone who wants to learn or earn a set on the main stage. Its all-inclusive nature is beyond cultural divides and is exclusively about the music.
For The Infamous Stringdusters, this tradition is just the starting point, according to band member Andy Falco.
“Bluegrass is an oral tradition, you’re coming up and learning about the music,” Falco said. “At every level, you’re picking, connecting, and learning. It’s an honor to be part of that lineage with The Stringdusters, and now we're in a place where we can take the music to wherever the journey is going for us. Our band has its own musical DNA, its own evolution.”
The Infamous Stringdusters are Andy Hall on dobro, Andy Falco on acoustic guitar, Chris Pandolfi on banjo, Jeremy Garrett on fiddle and Travis Book on double bass. They have released twelve studio albums since 2007 and have won many international bluegrass awards and even a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album in 2018 for Laws of Gravity.
The Stringdusters bring tremendous musical dexterity to their music. They pick faster than speed metal yet are gentle as a lullaby. Their vocal harmonies are layered like a barbershop quartet and conjoin seamlessly. Each player brings his voice to the song, in lead and backup, each brings their own songs and is featured and supports in turn. They are a band of brother songwriters in the round, as Falco explains.
"Everybody has to feel creatively satiated,” he said. “It’s an expression, an art form. Everybody gets their moment to step out, and everybody has their moment to support. We decided that no matter who brings in a song, anything that the Stringdusters record, everybody gets credit for, as a songwriter. We're a rare, fully democratic band.”
It is a joy and wonder to see The Infamous String Dusters perform their bluegrass stylings live. It’s a transportive journey to the very roots of Americana and world music, and and a thrill to hear their creatively reimagined covers tunes. Unlike other music events where the audience is treated like a consumer only, bluegrass encourages group participation, and nearly requires it. Skill, dedication and authenticity is what is valued mostly and there are no pretensions. You cannot fake this music. You must be accomplished at being genuine.
For Falco, this is the mark for his singing and songwriting.
“I listen to Jerry Garcia [of the Grateful Dead] sing and realize that trying to do a fancier vocal thing isn't the way to go,” Falco said. “Trying to get to the heart of the story and to emote it, that is ultimately what I connect to.”
The Infamous Stringdusters play BeachLife Ranch on September 17.