Infamous Stringdusters | Sweetwater Music Hall | 4/5/2024

Article Contributed by Gabriel David Barkin | Published on Sunday, April 7, 2024

The Infamous Stringdusters should be way more famous.

Not to say they haven’t earned numerous accolades, including a Grammy win for Best Bluegrass Album in 2018. The quintet also tops the bill at many string-based festivals. While perhaps not yet a “household name” in the bluegrass pantheon, the Stringdusters may be the worst-kept secret in the genre.

The Infamous Stringdusters | Mill Valley, CA

Their “stringdusting,” which may or not have anything to do with infamy, has also earned them a hardcore fanbase – including many who attended a pair of shows on Thursday and Friday at Mill Valley’s Sweetwater. (A license plate spelling out “DUSTERS,” with a heart replacing the “U,” was spotted in the parking lot, a testament to their fans’ devotion.)

Chris Pandolfi | Infamous Stringdusters

Like so many bands of note, the Stringdusters trace their roots to a meeting of minds and strings at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. (Goose and Lettuce share a similar history.) Banjo player Chris Pandolfi, dobro player Andy Hall, and former guitarist Chris Eldridge soon joined forces in Nashville with Jesse Cobb (mandolin) and Jeremy Garrett (fiddle). Travis Book auditioned for bass, and the Infamous Stringdusters were on their way.

Andy Falco | The Infamous Stringdusters

That was 2006. Since then, Cobb has departed, and Andy Falco has replaced Eldridge on guitar. (Eldridge left in 2007 to join the Punch Brothers.) Now a five-man band, the Stringdusters put on exciting shows that blend traditional bluegrass with jam-inspired “newgrass.” They’re not only virtuoso pickers; they’re also fun to watch, full of smiles and often crisscrossing the stage to stand behind whoever is soloing at the moment.

Jeremy Garrett | Mill Valley, CA

The solos are, of course, spectacular. Garrett’s fiddling is particularly outstanding. Just when you think he’s reached the peak, he goes higher, and the entire band circles around to egg him on. Dobro player Hall, who looks like he’d be at home on stage with any alt-rock band, is also a monster. His leads are both fluid and fierce.

Travis Book | Infamous Stringdusters

A common thread in many bluegrass bands – and fanbases – these days is a tangential relationship to the music of the Grateful Dead, and likewise to the American roots music that the Dead included in their repertoire. Certainly, there are a lot of hippies out there who first discovered bluegrass via Garcia’s participation in Old and in the Way, the supergroup that also included newgrass pioneer David Grisman.

This relationship is notably strong in Stringduster-land.

Infamous Stringdusters | Mill Valley, CA

At the Sweetwater, the Stringdusters paid homage to those roots with several songs, including “Deep Elem Blues,” Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” and the Dead’s own “Casey Jones.” The latter began at a familiar pace, then kicked into a faster gear (you’d better watch their speed!) for a jamgrass section. The Stringdusters’ original “Wake the Dead” is likewise a tribute, with shades of “Fire on the Mountain” and lyrics like, “We'll fly so high without a net, we'll take a strange trip that we'll never forget.” Guitarist Falco turned on a “Jerry-izing” envelope filter effect for this one.

Andy Hall | Infamous Stringdusters

Bill Monroe also got a nod with a cover of “My Sweet Blue-Eyed Darlin’,” as did Swedish DJ Avicii, whose “Wake Me Up” closed the first set. The ‘Dusters played a number of their own songs too, including “Rise Sun” and “Pearl of Carolina,” both from their most recent album of originals (2022’s “Toward the Fray”). Conspicuously absent were their Spotify-friendly covers of songs by the Police (“Walking on the Moon”), the Cure (“Just Like Heaven”), and Harry Styles (“As It Was”). The fans didn’t mind; they were there for the infamy, not the radio-friendly stuff.

Infamous Stringdusters | Sweetwater Music Hall

Infamous Stringdusters | Mill Valley, CA

Infamous Stringdustes | Mill Valley, CA

Jeremy Garrett & Andy Hall | Mill Valley, CA

After two sets of kickass blue/jam/newgrass, the Stringdusters returned for an encore with a cover of “Get It While You Can,” a song written by banjo virtuoso Danny Barnes. The devoted fans shouted along on the chorus lyric: “I like good biscuits in the gravy, ma'am!”

Good biscuits! That’s a fitting description for the Infamous Stringdusters. Get yourself some infamous biscuits today.


Set 1:
Rise Sun
Tears of the Earth
Will You Be Lonesome Too
Like I Do
Hard Line
Deep Elem Blues (traditional)
Home of the Red Fox (Bill Emerson cover)
Night on the River
My Sweet Blue-Eyed Darlin' (Bill Monroe cover)
Wake Me Up (Avicii cover)

Set 2:
Angelina Baker (Stephen Foster cover)
Peace of Mind
Casey Jones (Grateful Dead cover)
It'll Be Alright
Wake the Dead
Forty Years of Trouble
Pearl of Carolina
Blue Kentucky Wind (Les Taylor cover)
Big River (Johnny Cash cover)
Echoes of Goodbye (Jeremy Garrett song)

Get It While You Can (Danny Barnes cover)