Over the weekend, The Infamous Stringdusters wrapped up their Colorado based, nine date Ski Dust tour. Starting at the end of February, the band hit Frisco’s Ten Mile Music Hall to kick things off before moving south to Crested Butte and Telluride. With a total of six shows to say goodbye to February, the month of March would get the second half of the tour with a turn towards the north country and the Front Range. Stopping off for a headlining night at the 10th annual WinterWonderGrass just like they had a decade ago at the inaugural event, the band then headed east, finishing it all off with back-to-back, sold-out shows in Fort Collins and Boulder.
Fort Fun’s music gem Washington’s was home base for the penultimate gig for this fearsome quintet and whether one was catching the whole tour or just this one close to home, the energy of the line that stretched around the building was palpable. Letting folks in right at seven, the friendly staff greeted everyone with a smile, reflecting the same ornament that most were wearing entering the lofty lobby. Some headed for the balcony and its comfortable theater seats, others made for the rail, while still others meandered between the dual level bars, engaging in conversation, hugs, and high fives, catching up and mulling over merchandise choices. With a showtime of eight, it was clear that the band was going to delay, not because the room wasn’t already feeling tight, but because the healthy line outside had still not come to its end and the evening needed a little more time to get everyone in.
With a patient and courteous crowd ready to receive the offerings of the night, the band finally took to the darkened stage. Fiddle player Jeremy Garrett stepped to the microphone, and greeted everyone simply with, “What’s up, everybody? Let’s do this!” The crowd acknowledged the invitation with a short explosion and the band got things going with “Carry Me Away”. Leading the charge was Garrett on vocals, strong and confident, and this short bluegrass tune got the room warmed up for a night full of fun. From the get go, it was easy to see that the band was just as excited as their audience and sounded tight and energetic.
Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream” came in second and was sung by bass talent Travis Book. Andy Hall’s quickfire dobro charge added to the fire of this rare cover and looking back over the list for the tour, this was a debut for the Colorado run. The version stayed pretty true to the original structure but got the Stringduster treatment, including a propelled ending. Two songs in, the sound, lights, and music gave everyone that feeling that they were in the right place at the right time.
Without a breath, “My Destination” from the band’s first album Fork in the Road slid into the third slot. This one is high octane bluegrass at its best. Another first for the run, the audience recognized it as special and the band reciprocated. A couple of minutes in, the incendiary string theory turned jam and everyone strapped in. With the groove set up, flatpicking fury Andy Falco unleashed his inner beast on the solo, treating the room to exactly what they had come for. At the break, Garrett jumped right back into the lyrics and finished off the number that timed out at almost eight minutes.
As the applause dwindled, Book got to the mic to check in:
How is everybody doing tonight? Right on. We are so grateful to finally be here. It took us a long time to get here to this room. Whole pandemic. But now we’re here and it is beautiful. Thank you all for coming and sharing this evening with us.
Taking it back to the old school, the band put to work the Flatt and Scruggs cover “I’d Rather Be Alone”. This tune was recently given to the fans in February as an early glimpse into the upcoming April release of the tribute album the band have been working on to honor these two legends and their groundwork in the world of bluegrass. Keeping to the traditional, this one lasted only a few minutes but got some great banjo fills from Chris Pandolfi. Book’s vocals delivered on the genuine feel of the piece.
The instrumental “Cloud Valley” left the traditional in the rear view and took the room through the aspects of the title, traversing deep into the emotive lowlands, fertile and moist, while also spanning through high altitude skyscapes, giving wing to the nine-hundred to soar multiple times throughout the piece. The interplay encapsulated both strength and tenderness and visibly moved some listeners to tears. Hitting almost eight minutes, any baggage the audience had brought with them dissolved into the fleeting notes of the moment. This one also was a first on the Ski Dust Tour.
With a warm applause and calls for more, Dobro wizard Andy Hall addressed the audience:
Well thanks so much, Fort Collins. Like Travis said, it is a pleasure and an honor to finally be here. The very, very, very last gig we were trying to do before the pandemic hit, it was right here. We were loading in and it all got shut down. We never got to play so that was almost three years to the date of today so we are feeling good being here tonight, Fort Collins! Seeing everyone together, having a blast, thank you for coming. It is a joyous occasion!
Under a deafening wave of celebration, Falco strummed out the intro to “Long Time Going”. Garrett got on early with the vocals and the evening continued. A few minutes in, at the break of the tune, Garrett and Pandolfi engaged in a pop and punch battle, the audience egging them each on, until they both broke, the rest of the band jumping back into the instrumental. The group moved as one for a few more minutes before turning the music to another fan favorite in “Rainbows”, the two combined clocked in at ten plus minutes of good times.
With the end of the set approaching, the band chose to bring on the break with a couple of covers. The Grateful Dead’s “Brown Eyed Women” was up next and was well received, Falco leading the way. His vocals carried charm all the way through and his stringed voice nailed the imagery of the tune. Without a clear stop, the band slid into Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”. From the audience’s response, this was well known and had many singing along. This had the energy of a true set closer, the whole of the band pushing it further and further, higher and higher.
Pandolfi got the charge of set break announcer, addressing the crowd:
Fort Collins! Thank you guys so very much. We are going to take a short break. We've got much more music on tap. Stick around, we will see you guys in just a few. Thank you.
With the band back and full of smiles, the joy collective was ready to get with it. Set two opened with the positive message “It’ll Be Alright” with Book delivering the words of wisdom. The solos spotlight each of the members before giving way to a small jam. This interlude, inlaid with soft accents, started light and lilting before picking up speed and finally breaking into “Well Well”. With Hall taking lead vocals as per the usual, this one was spot on, proud, and filled to the brim with energy. As if racing to get to the end, when the parameters of song number two were met, the band took their first real run at altering the room's perception of time and space. Turning to the effect pedals, the room echoed and strobed, drawing the attention inward. As the context went angular, layered, and offsetting, the band revolved, filling the gaps. Book kept everyone anchored, Falco and Hall reacted like tethered animals trying to lose the leash, Garrett and the Mighty Panda filled the backdrop as the crowd’s skewed viewpoint tried to make sense of it all, listeners filled with confused glee as the band pulled them along. The apex of the endeavor left the house reeling, and coming off as completely effortless, the five dropped right back into the tail end of “Well Well” under a tide of celebration. The Stringdusters smiled in the wake of their creation, enjoying the delight of the room.
Someone yelled out “You guys are awesome!”, to which Falco simply stated, ”Hey, You guys are awesome! We really appreciate each and every one of you. Thank you for coming out and sharing your evening with us.”
This is the end of what we would call our ski tour. We are obviously not skiing here, but we have been in Colorado for about the last 8 or 9 days and what better place for a band like us to be than Colorado. Particularly we wanted to end this tour right here on the Front Range in Fort Collins and we are playing Boulder tomorrow night. Thank you guys so much for making this tour amazing. You all are the best!
The Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey” kept the good vibes going and pulled everyone into the singalong. Any appreciator of Jerry Garcia has to honor the bluegrass side of “Captain Trips” and hearing this one within the instrumentational context of these players made it a little more special.
ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” started up with the final note of “Touch”. Per the beard protocol, it was only appropriate that Garrett lead the band and this one got as much crowd accompaniment if not more than the Garcia number. Hall fueled up the dobro and annihilated his solo, extending into many, many, many measures. Garrett took on round two and chopped and sawed at that fiddle with fury, dancing in place with eyes closed, while his face shifted from gnarled grimace to stretched smile over and over again. Falco took on the third helping and although he is clean shaven, Billy Gibbons would have given over mad props in person had he witnessed his handling of the lead. Sweat stained and beaming with glee, Garrett addressed the house, “Hey, cheers everybody! You can’t go wrong with ZZ Top bluegrass style!”, the proclamation gladly received and reciprocated by the patronage.
Returning to the traditional bluegrass feel, Pandolfi rolled out the intro to “A Hard Life Makes a Good Song”. Chris’ role would not end there, a healthy and well-articulated solo that pushed the freight train’s mid-section full steam ahead. With the rest of the band riding coach, Panda conducted that iron horse right down the tracks. When it seemed like it was going to all come off the tracks, the band shifted, without indicator or queue, right into the stabilizing force of “Gravity”. Book’s voice continued to deliver on the reflective lyrics while the rest pulled on the heartstrings with the emotional feel of the structure. The soul of the song opened up with a passionate dobro delivery by Hall that intensified the longer it went, the rest of the group holding down the head. With a movement or two of a nondescript reggae beat, the band went from planet earth’s gravity to free floating space with The Police’s “Walking on the Moon”.
The trifecta of diversity of “Hard Life” to “Gravity” to The Police cover certainly exemplified the mastery of this band to handle any genre that inspires them. It should also be noted that both “Hard Life” and “Walking on the Moon” were tour debuts, further reflecting the band’s ability to shake it up and make it up, keeping both themselves and their audiences engaged and entertained.
On a roll, the room went from the lunar stroll right into “Truth and Love”, another original that lifts the spirit and opens the soul. The central vibe is one of hope, promise, and faith amidst the unknown. The end contained a nice break from the reflective, shifting directly into an upbeat dance inducing groove. On the setlist, this one was written out as “Truth and Love Disco” and it certainly got going places. Garrett took that fiddle and turned the dance floor on its head, cycling up and up, hitting dizzying heights, until the freak out returned to the pursuit of “T&L”.
When the disco dancefest came to its end, Book chimed in, “Yeah fort Collins! You guys are badass! Thank you so much. We are having a blast up here. It is Saturday night. We are going to make it happen. You all are badass!” Hall added, “We knew that going in. We had all those gigs at The Aggie (theater), back in the day. Whew! Barely made it out of there alive. But uh, I got to say, our first time playing here at Washington’s, we are pretty freakin’ stoked on this place! Big hands to everyone here, and our good friend Kevin Gregory. Do guys like bluegrass music?” With that, The Stringdusters kicked up the hoedown with a straightforward, no-nonsense example of the bluegrass classic “Pig in a Pen”. At the end of the swift run through, Garrett looked down at the exuberant front row and stated, “You haven’t had enough yet?!?! Well, that’s alright ‘cause neither have we!”
Pulling once again from the Grateful Dead canon and breaking out another new tune for the tour, “Cold Rain and Snow” kept it all going. The jam in this one contained a great solo from each of the band members. Panda really shined on this one, taking an extra helping and sharing with everyone. Falco’s purposeful handiwork hypnotized the room, cycling between rhythmic strumming and blurred barrages of single notes. The middle got a diminished breakdown that slowly climbed with the refrain until it released back into a breakneck speed. As the speed grew, the band finally exited into the Garrett penned “Echoes of Goodbye” to close out the set, leaving the band and the audience on the highest of notes. Blistering violin cut through the air every chance Garrett got the chance. Falco’s lightning quick delivery was more of the same, giving it his all with as much energy as when he started the night. Hall’s hair whipped as he pivoted and lifted his run, eventually bringing himself up on the balls of his feet as if he might just leave the ground with the magic channeling through his being. Hitting the final notes of the first “Echoes” of the tour, the crowd that had shown up to get down still remained and let the band know that their efforts were not wasted or in vain.
“Deep Elem Blues” was the encore selection and was played with as much fun as the rest of the two sets. Pandolfi once again really came through on the banjo work and the rest of the guys laid back to give him extra time to burn brightly. Falco’s contribution came off as more blues shuffle than old time traditional and his soul poured through every note. The Walking Boss Book laid it in thick and matched Falco note for note through a few runs to the delight of the crowd. Garrett’s fiddle sang from start to finish and Hall bent and slid up to the very last moment. With the final notes played, the band finally relinquished the stage and sent a satiated audience out into night with an earful of satisfaction, a belly full of joy, and a headful of memories that left listeners beaming their inner light out onto the darkened downtown streets of Fort Collins.
In the end, there was nothing standard about the performance or setlist. Twenty songs, nine tour debuts, and of those songs that had appeared earlier on the nine-night run, none were played more than two other times. From strong vocals and ridiculous playing, as both independent elements and as an aggregate compound, the chemistry that The Stringdusters share is one that makes these gentlemen of jam truly infamous and unforgettable.