Infamous Stringdusters | Boulder Theater | 12/8/2013 | Review
It’s no secret that the Infamous Stringdusters love Colorado, and let’s be serious, who can blame them? While Virginia is their home base, bassist Travis Book grew up here, and Andy Hall and Chris Pandolfi now spend their days along the Colorado Front Range. It seems to be a home away from home for the band, with highly responsive crowds always eager for some high altitude, innovative bluegrass. Host to Telluride Bluegrass, Planet Bluegrass, and producing groups like String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band, Colorado isn’t just another stop on the map. For the Stringdusters, Colorado holds a special enough place that they dedicated their current tour to benefiting those affected by the Boulder Flood.
One dollar from every ticket sold during the Road to Boulder Tour goes to the Oskar Blues CAN’D AID foundation. The partnership’s immediate goal is to help the citizens impacted by Boulder Flood this past September. Many benefit concerts came to fruition, including Hot Rize’s Pickin’ Up the Pieces, which featured Hall and Pandolfi. The Stringdusters took it to the next level, however, with an entire tour dedicated to the cause and a Road to Boulder EP that also goes to those in need. To read an interview with Andy Hall detailing his experience with the flood and his insight on the Road to Boulder Tour, click here.
The Boulder Theater was an oven on Sunday night, the second in a two-show stand. In the midst of their tour, they had certainly settled in. With ice on the streets and whiskey in the air, the Dusters took the stage following a spirited set by Paper Bird and kicked off the night with the aptly titled, “Colorado,” sung by violinist Jeremy Garret. It’s an ode to a long distance friend that grew up with you but never changed. It’s the feeling you get when you drive past Denver and are so close you can almost feel the comforting cradle of those flagstone foothills. Being a Colorado transplant myself, there’s nothing more better.
One of my favorite things about the band is their ability to nurture a scene and way of life. Their lyrics are reflective of their personalities, and their songs come together in conjunction with their outlooks. Whether it’s hosting their own music festival, raising money for a variety of causes, or naming a tour “The Ski Tour” solely because they’re hitting ski towns and able to go riding during the day and play a show at night, they’re ingenuity shines through. They sell dog collars at the merchandise booth and drink local Lyon’s brewery Oskar Blues. They cover the Grateful Dead and release their own records. They’re the Infamous Stringdusters, and they’ve been doing things their way since 2007.
The first set progressed with a mixed bag of vocal leads. “How Far I’d Fall for You” had the energy rising and Travis taking the charge both on his bouncing upright bass and vocals. He was complimented with on-point harmonies by the rest of the band on the Grateful Dead tune “He’s Gone,” which was preceded by a finger blistering road song called “Destinado.” Dobro player Andy Hall sang that number, and the consistent vocal swapping between members shows the lack of ego within the band. They’re a road group telling stories they see as they go, a band of brothers. “Paypal Jamgrass” really opened up the improvisation between the pickers as they built to crescendo at full strum before a country breakdown brought them back to the chorus. Hall shred through a lengthy “Moon Man” to close the first set in what felt like one of the longer songs of the night.
During the set break, the space opened up. There was room to breathe. The second set started with the dobro sliding blues, “Fork in the Road,” and no matter which direction they chose to go in, it was the right choice. The bop banjo instrumental “Machines” had the band seamlessly melting through layers of each other’s lines. Contrary to popular belief, it’s all right to cross-streams, sometimes. The intricate balance that comes with splitting vocals and seamless soloing without stepping on toes is a nod to their cohesion.
The final song the second set was “No More to Leave you Behind,” prefaced by the band telling the audience how much they love Boulder, as well as thanking Oskar Blues and everybody else that helped make the tour happen. They also mentioned they’d be back relatively soon for their “Ski Tour,” attempting to catch the best powder in Colorado. The bouncy arrangement between the dobro and banjo flourished while Andy Falco kept the strum-movement alive on his acoustic guitar. While lots of bluegrass makes you want to swing and shake, all I wanted to do was jump up and down. The instrumental jams went on and on, and it felt like Hall was talking about Boulder when he sang the line, “the road is lonesome, and I’m feeling blue, and I can’t get you off of my mind.” Of course the lyrics can be interpreted in many ways, but their songs took on new meaning for me after knowing what they’ve done for Boulder County, and how much they love our state.
The double encore commenced and they closed the show with “You Can’t Stop the Changes,” which sort of felt like the futility of life when it comes to natural disasters. While you might not be able to change nature, you can surely help ease the pain, and that’s what this tour was all about. The Infamous Stringdusters are more than just a band by virtue of their collective actions. As the Grateful Dead flipped the industry standard upside down with their successful, yet progressive business model and allegiance to the road, so too have the Stringdusters. One show, one song, one idea at a time, the innovation continues to pay off.