One of the more powerful impressions I took away from IBMA 2004 was the performance of Wheel House, a young band I caught in an evening showcase. I had come to see them primarily because of Chris Pandolfi, an extremely talented banjo player who I admire a great deal, but left their show equally impressed by the band as a whole. Andy Hall (dobro/vocal), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle/vocal), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Jesse Cobb (mandolin), and Alan Bartram (bass/vocal) were also members of Wheel House.
I knew at the time that most of the members had recently taken gigs with other bands, and feared that this promising new act might simply vanish from the scene. In fact, Andy Hall went on tour with Dolly Parton, Alan Bartram went with Kenny & Amanda Smith ( and now Del McCoury) and Chris Pandolfi ended up touring with Bering Strait.
When I spoke with Pandolfi on Monday afternoon, he told me that the group had not only reformed (with Travis Book on bass), but they had all made a commitment to focus their efforts together as a band, and had changed the name to The Stringdusters. They have a debut CD nearly completed (produced by Tim Stafford) which they are shopping to labels.
Chris invited me to their showcase Monday night, which I was fortunately able to attend. Just as I had remembered, the show was powerful and vibrant with an interesting combination of stage personalities. Andy Hall fronts the show with a loose, comfortable style and Chris Pandolfi stands almost motionless – until his banjo solos, where the quirky rhythmic twists in his playing are reflected in his body movements. On the other extreme is Chris Eldridge (son of Ben), whose facial and physical contortions when soloing on guitar are as unique and creative as his music. Yet another extreme can be found in watching Jeremy Garrett sing, where the intensity of his delivery makes you fear that his head may explode!
The music they play is largely original, and with a modern edge that should appeal to listeners close to their age, while staying close enough to the traditional music that informs their sound to keep more mainstream bluegrass audiences entertained.
There is tremendous interest in this new band at IBMA this week, and their few showcases are likely to become must see events. We noticed that Ken Irwin of Rounder Records arrived for Monday night’s showcase and took a front row seat. I expect that representatives of other independent bluegrass and acoustic music labels will make a point to see this group as the week progresses, and anyone interested in hearing a strong young contender in the bluegrass world would be advised to do so as well.
We have included a few photos from their Monday night showcase for the Huck Finn Festival folks. The lighting wasn’t ideal so we apologize for the grainy images. The photos are by Tami Roth, and we will have more of her images up later this morning, and throughout the week. Tami is a terrific photographer, and I’m sure you will enjoy seeing her images of IBMA 2005.