With fingers flying across acoustic strings and a sound blending the finest traditions of American bluegrasss with the aesthetic sensibilities of the contemporary music, the Infamous Stringdusters embody today’s young, hip bluegrass scene. And with the release of their third album, Things That Fly, the Infamous Stringdusters are flying higher than ever.
In laying the groundwork for Things That Fly, the Infamous Stringdusters embraced a decidedly old school approach to the album. On three occasions the band rented houses where they could focus on their songs in preparation for the album. Recoding was done at a studio in Charlottesville, VA. Eschewing the 10-6 recording session that has become almost an industry standard, band members essentially lived at the studio, working and recording whenever the creative urge struck them.
Infamous Stringdusters’ guitarist Andy Falco says that this approach was enormously successful, “It really opened up creativity and got everyone wholly involved with the process.” He believes that their unique approach to the album has paid off, “People seem to really dig the album and we’re very proud of it. It’s exciting to be getting this kind of response.”
The charts are responding, too. Even in the crowded bluegrass scene, Things that Fly hit #2 on Billboard’s bluegrass chart.
As an album, Things That Fly enables the Infamous Stringdusters’ distinctive approach to their music to really shine. Even more than previous releases, the current album offers fans technically ambitious and melodic sounds grounded in traditional bluegrass that is packed with a unique bundle of influences drawn from other genres as well as a decidedly contemporary high-energy, engaging performance style.
Often described simply as a bluegrass or jamgrass act, the reality is actually much more complex. The Infamous Stringdusters are a band that inclusively rather than exclusively plays bluegrass — and they are very aware of that fact. While bluegrass is certainly the band’s common denominator, each member has other influences and music they’ve played which they consciously try to bring together into a unique sound.
“They way Bill Monroe played music was cutting edge at the time,” Falco explains, “We’re trying to bring in all of our own influences and build our own sound, the Infamous Stringduster sound, which we think is cutting-edge today.”
Falco himself is a case in point. Before becoming a devotee of bluegrass, he grew up playing electric blues and funk. His musical idols include figures like Mike Bloomfield, Jimi Hendrix, and Jerry Garcia –- all of whom find their way into his approach to music. For example, he tries to bring the confidence, power, and passion of Hendrix’s indomitable electric guitar work to the bluegrass guitar of the Infamous Stringdusters. And while it may be a bit soon to talk about “bluesgrass” as a new sub-genre, there is an undeniable smoky, Delta quality to much of his guitar work. The other members of the band bring similarly eclectic influences to the bluegrass stage.
“I feel like, if I abandon those [other] influences it’s just going to make my music a copy someone else. But when you put all those influences in, it’s like your own musical DNA strand — and it’s what’s going to make your own unique sound,” Falco says.
ON THE ROAD … AGAIN
The Infamous String Dusters recently returned to the road, following a short break in their tour supporting the release of Things That Fly. They launched the current part of their tour with an appearance at the 20th Annual High Sierra Music Festival in early July. It was the Infamous Stringdusters’ first appearance at the legendary California festival, and the band is excited.
“We were really attracted to the diversity of High Sierra,” Falco explains, “We like to play festivals with a diverse lineup. When you have lots of genres coming together, I think the audience tends open their minds and just listen to the music. When a festival focuses on just one genre, there is an expectation to play a certain way. With multiple styles, people just listen for the music and that’s a really cool thing.”
“Plus,” he adds, “You can never go wrong with Northern California.”
In addition to High Sierra, other highpoints of the tour include RockyGrass Festival, the Saddleback Mountain Bluegrass Festival, Four Corners Festival, and making a roots music pilgrimage to play a gig in Tupelo, Mississippi.
This year, their Infamous Stringdusters will be taking their involvement with the bluegrass scene to the next level. No longer content just to play at festivals, they are organizing their own.
According to Falco, some of the band’s best ideas have their origins on the road. “We’ll be riding along in the van and one of us will say, ‘Wouldn’t it be sick if …,’ and the festival was one of those ideas.” Having played many festivals, the Infamous Stringdusters were intrigued by the idea of organizing an event that could bring together all their favorite aspects of other festivals. After the band had kicked around the idea for awhile, they brought in their manager and the rest of the Artist Farm team got involved. Collectively, they put their heads and talents together to see what they could make happen.
The result is “The Festy Experience,” which will make its debut this October 9th and 10th in Roseland, VA. In addition to the Infamous Stringdusters themselves, The Festy Experience’s lineup will feature thirteen other bluegrass, jamgrass, and related acts, including Railroad Earth, Toubab Krewe, Josh Ritter & the Love Cañon String Band, and Town Mountain. Indeed, Falco says the only really hard part about organizing the Festival has been that the number of worthy acts far exceeds the available slots at the event.
“We’re really psyched with the line up and it’s going to be very exciting,” he explains, “There were way more bands we wanted to get, but we can only fit so many in. Fortunately, we’re planning this to be an annual event, so we’ll have plenty of chances to work people in.”
The Infamous Stringdusters want The Festy Experience to be a full experience that goes beyond just providing top-notch music. The event will also feature bike races and a variety of lifestyle and outdoor activities. The close proximity of the award-winning Devil’s Backbone Brewery adds another level of attraction for microbrew aficionados.
BECOMING INFAMOUS: THE HISTORY OF THE INFAMOUS STRINGDUSTERS
The Infamous Stringdusters began life in 2007 as just “The Stringdusters.” Formed in Nashville, most of the band’s lineup actually has deep roots on the East Coast. The original lineup of the band included Travis Book (Standing Bass), Jesse Cobb (mandolin), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle), Andy Hall (dobro), and Chris Pandolfi (banjo).
Early in their history, they confronted a minor curse that has struck many bands in many genres –- discovering that there was already another act dubbed “The Stringdusters.” To set themselves apart, the band members brainstormed for an adjective to put in front of “Stringdusters,” — something punchy, memorable, and with appropriate bluegrass panache. Thus were “The Infamous Stringdusters” born, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Prior to Things That Fly, the Infamous Stringdusters had released two other albums. Their 2007 debut album, Fork in the Road, hit 4th on the bluegrass charts. The eponymous Infamous Stringdusters, released in 2008, hit number one on the bluegrass charts and even registered with many mainstream country fans, hitting 62 on Billboard’s county chart (no mean feat for a bluegrass album).
Falco is the most recent addition to the Infamous Stringdusters lineup, replacing Chris Eldridge on guitar in late 2007. Originally from Long Island, Falco already knew several members of the band, including Andy Hall and Chris Pandolfi, from the northeast bluegrass and jamgrass scene. So, when Falco moved to Nashville, he was already aware of the band and their sound.
“I remember going to see their first showcases. I loved what they were doing,” Falco recalls. “When I joined, I immediately felt very at home and like I had found the band I was looking for.”
While Falco is a lifelong musician, he did not become a bluegrass devotee until later. [NOTE TO MUSICIANS: That’s how this works, if you’re the member of the band who actually talks to the writer, you end up getting a little more space in the article than anyone else.] He grew up in a musical family, with brothers and cousins often playing gigs together. Falco’s older brother, Tom, played guitar in high school and was instrumental in young Andy’s musical education, showing him chords as well as taking to Grateful Dead shows.
Falco still has clear memories of his early exposure to bluegrass and his decision to make a commitment to acoustic music. “There were a lot of things that drew me to it,” he explains, “With electric, you have to have space for mics and amps, get a PA system, and everything. It’s a big production even just to jam. With bluegrass, you can just play it anywhere. It’s also a really unique community that was all about the music. That appealed to me, I wanted to learn that style of playing and be part of the scene.”
Falco cut his bluegrass teeth playing with New York-based mandolin virtuoso Buddy Merriam (and his Back Roads). After moving to Nashville, he played with a variety of acts including the Greencards and Alecia Nugent. His work with bands like those led directly to him playing with the Infamous Stringdusters.
Things That Fly has proven an oddly prophetic title for the band’s new release.
With a hot new album under their belt and their own festival coming later this year, the Infamous Stringdusters are helping give the contemporary bluegrass sound wings. The band’s future is clearly flying soaring than ever and we look for great things from them in the future.