While we had hoped to post live from the Infamous Stringdusters’ Festy in Nelson County, VA this past weekend, the lack of both power and signal made that a little more challenging than we had anticipated. It was, however, a phenomenal festival experience.
The Stringdusters do enough festival touring that they really know what works, and have managed to create a destination event that features phenomenal music, a breathtaking venue, great camping, and delicious food – I had to go back to the Shrimp and Grits vendor for seconds and they had homemade doughnuts every morning!! There were also outdoor events (running, biking, yoga), and a wealth of family and general interest activities – speakers and workshops on things like beer making, winter camping, outdoor safety, and a full blown kids’ space with tie-dying!
I’ve said this before, but Festy reminds me of FloydFest, only it is so much smaller that it has a real sense of intimacy. The artists that came to perform stuck around to watch each other; many of them camped over for the weekend.
We were privileged to sit around the campfire with the Keels and Natural Bridge several nights while they jammed with friends, family, and other performers who stopped by. The Stringdusters played multiple times, in addition to joining a number of friends on stage (Emmet-Nershi, Jim Lauderdale, David Grisman), and they could all be found at various points during the weekend on the side stage conducting workshops.
The Festy was the perfect venue to the kick-off event for the ‘Dusters Fall Tour, and release their new live effort and in spite of a very recent change in band members, their performances (especially Sunday night’s) were truly inspired. The word is out about this festival, and in spite of being a little bigger, it managed to feel even better.
Milo caught up with Andy Hall to talk about how the weekend was going, but firstI have to set the stage. Picture a gorgeous 78 degree afternoon. The Wood Brothers have just finished on the main stage, The Good Lovelies are playing on the Southern Stage, and the Falco Brothers are conducting a workshop. Across the field (where the Farmers Market was set up), Chris Pandolfi is engaged in possibly the most acrobatic badminton game I’ve seen ages). This was the backdrop for the following conversation:
So, Andy, do you think you were able to accomplish the same great Festy vibe that you had last year?
“I think we did better. From just the first year you’re able to learn so much about, from the infrastructure to what kinds of bands you want. There is a real sense that there is a lot to do here this year. There are all these different stages, the campground is amazing, the bike race, the running race, I feel like we really got it dialed in. Everyone I’ve talked to seems to be having fun. What really matters is if the fans are having fun, it feels like a special experience for them.”
In the wake of Jesse Cobb’s announcement that he is leaving the Infamous Stringdusters tell me about the addition of Dominick Leslie to the band. How did you guys connect?
“We’ve known Dominick for a long time since he was a young teenager. He’s obviously a phenomenal player but he’s also just a great guy to be with, he’s creative and open. As of now it’s just sort of temporary to see what happens. Jesse is such a fantastic player, and we’ll just have to see, plus Dominic has the Deadly Gentlemen, so we’re just enjoying playing with him right now. He’s doing a great job. He was the obvious choice to help us out just because of his playing and his personality.”
Note: if you’re not familiar with The Deadly Gentlemen, they’re worth checking out, these guys have an impressive bluegrass pedigree collectively, in spite of the sharp turn they’ve taken musically.
The live CD, how do you decide what goes on that? How many times did you change your minds?
“We wanted it to be a mix of music that some people had heard but also some newer stuff that possibly they hadn’t heard. It was a great opportunity for us to include some of the longer improvisational sections that are difficult to capture in the studio. We’ve been hearing for a long time that fans wanted a live record because of that. With the studio you don’t get the experience of long improvised sections, so we chose some songs that had those long extended different jams, so we wanted to include some of that. And then we just listened for what came out as quality singing and the quality of the song, because, you know, we make mistakes, and mistakes are fine, but … what came out good, and mistakes are fine, but you look for the best performances that will best represent a good live show. We picked from 4 or 5 shows and just tried to pick the best stuff. Get some jams in there.”
Are you all involved in the process? How does that work?
“Yeah, it can be difficult! You have to be forgiving of yourself and your band mates because if you’re really critical you wouldn’t end up with anything. So, you have to be willing to let some of the details go on a live recording, and we did, we wanted it to be an honest live recording. There are no overdubs no tuning, nothing like that, it’s just us playing the songs live.”
Is one Festy a year enough?
“No! I don’t think so. We’re only 2 years in and we’re doing well, and because we’re a band that plays so many festivals, we feel like we know what makes a good one. And that‘s why we decided to do this. We have a few different ideas in the works to expand and maybe have another festival. We’d have different festivals cater to different themes. We’re hoping to expand this Festy.”
The title of their album, available now, is We’ll Do It Live. And do it live they certainly did this weekend, and very well indeed!
photos © 2011 G. Milo Farineau