Thoroughly Dusted in Roanoke

The Infamous Stringdusters - Chris Pandolfi, Jeremy Garrett, Chris Eldridge, Travis Book, Jesse Cobb and Andy hallLong time readers of Bluegrass Today realize that I am something of a cheerleader for The Infamous Stringdusters. I had been mightily impressed when I saw them several years ago as Wheel House. They knocked me over two years ago as The Stringdusters, and when they “emerged” at IBMA last year as The Infamous Stringdusters – with a Sugar Hill recording contract – I was sure great things were ahead for these young pickers.

Last night here in Roanoke, they packed a trendy, downtown nightspot and proceeded to demolish the assembled throng of music lovers and fans. The two sets mixed cuts from their Sugar Hill debut, Fork In The Road, with new band compositions, some bluegrass classics, and even a few songs they had just been working up backstage.

What strikes me as rare with this bunch is their ability to mix genres so smoothly, with enough progressive/modern/newgrass edge to attract younger listeners, and a sufficient amount of unadulterated grass to please the hard core purists. I saw them go from a long, jammy instrumental with a rock flavor, to a smooth and wholly traditional take on The Stanley Brothers Lonesome River.

They are clearly comfortable in this small club environment, and worked both the early evening “meet and greet” bunch and the late night stragglers with just the right vibe. The highlight for me was the very end of the show, where they encouraged everyone to leave their seats and join the band in front of the stage for a three song, unamplified conclusion. This kicked with Uncle Pen and closed with Blue Night, both showing that despite their occasional wandering from the trail Bill Monroe blazed, they are right at home with his music in a straightahead style.

The Infamous Stringdusters are Chris Pandolfi (Panda) on banjo, Jeremy Garrett on fiddle/vocals, Chris Eldridge (Critter) on guitar, Travis Book on bass/vocals, Jesse Cobb on mandolin and Andy Hall on Dobro/vocals.

Each is a superb musician, worthy of a good many pixels of praise, but I am consistently impressed in particular by the ChrisDusters – Eldridge and Pandolfi. Chris Eldridge is already an important voice in the flatpick guitar world, and is likely to be even more of one as he continues to develop as an artist. We saw him last fall as a member of Chris Thile’s How To Grow A Band, and he shone there among some of the most exceptional string musicians ever assembled.

Pandolfi is a master of understated banjo, and excels on his instrument in ways that may escape an uninformed observer. He and I talked last night about our mutual distaste for flashy, “look at me” banjo playing, so I don’t suppose it’s surprising that I enjoy his picking. With so much of what he adds to the band being designed to hold things together rhythmically, he doesn’t stand out as much as the other first rate soloists in the band, but be sure to keep an ear and an eye on the banjo when you see them live.

All three vocalists are terrific, with different styles that complement one another perfectly. I especially enjoyed Travis Book’s singing last night, as well as wondering when Jeremy Garrett’s face would explode when got to soaring in the ether. Andy Hall’s dobro work is always a joy, as is Jesse Cobb’s mandolin – both in accompaniment and taking the lead.

The band is about to embark on a whirlwind six-week tour, taking them all over the US from late June through early August, including a show at the North Shore Jazz Festival in Vancouver, BC and the Telluride fest in Colorado.

Check their schedule online, and catch this exciting young band if the opportunity arises.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.