by Christian Pezzino
Find something else to huff, kids. The Infamous Stringdusters will get you higher than any can of compressed air. Weaving intricate melodies among quaint homespun lyrics, the Charlottesville, Virginia based quintet leaves the back porch of Appalachia in search of a new frontier. They craft a unique style of progressive, highly improvisational bluegrass by capturing the thoughtfulness of traditional bluegrass and combining the high-spirited meanders of improvisation to forge their own homestead in the ripening pastures of a continually evolving newgrass scene.
The Stringduster’s have exceptional stage presence, constantly shifting positions, listening intently to each other as they trade solos and cultivate brittle harmonies into foot-stomping mayhem. I once jokingly labeled them as the Disco Biscuits of bluegrass after witnessing their stunning late night performance at DelFest 2013. While nothing of the sort, their uncanny ability to transform a lull after a chorus from ethereal murmurings and psychedelic dithering into the full throttle chaos of an out-of-control freight train has earned them a spot in the jam band circuit. By patiently allowing songs to breathe, their music creates a life of its own and leads down exceptionally strange, occasionally endearing, but always astonishing tracks. Jams were never forced, and the composed sections were strong enough to harness the eclectic droning of Middle Eastern, Grateful Dead styled space explorations, which I uncleverly coin ‘spacegrass.’
But it’s not all space twang and soaring solos. Concealed behind the tightrope teetering of a delicately balanced string assemblage, their songs imbue a striking calm even in the fieriest of moments, each genuine and heartfelt, never ostentatious or contrived. A feeling of authenticity emerges as Andy Falco’s (guitar) vocals strike pangs of longing over the smooth thrum of Travis Brook’s upright bass. You can see the inspiration beading on the sweat of their brows, feel the excitement as they become absorbed into their instruments, eyes closed, expressions twisting and contorting to every note as they capture moments of bliss in extended sweeps of manic improvisation without every losing sight of their place within the jam.
Above all, the Stringdusters continue to push bluegrass forward into new territory. Drawing from the audacity of pioneering newgrass musician John Hartford in a fiery rendition of “Steam-Powered Aereoplane,” they send bluegrass to the moon and back to the verdant bedding where bluegrass began while paying homage to rock ‘n roll bands like the Grateful Dead in a funked out, high energy “I Know You Rider” and sweet, melodic cover of The Police’s “Walking on the Moon.” For most of the night, I felt like pollen floating through a hay field beneath a starry sky, quelled by the sincere melancholy of tunes such as “Don’t Think Twice” and “Try Try Try” and often windswept by the raucous gusts of “Hitchhiker” and “Tragic Life > Fire.” A rare in-crowd acoustic performance with Love Canon, who opened the show performing grassed-out 80s tunes, ended the night among fans, warm smiles gleaming above molten strings.