By Alan Sculley
Stratton Mountain will host the first East Coast WinterWonderGrass Festival, Dec. 14-16. The Infamous Stringdusters are headlining the festival, performing at the kick-off party on Dec. 13 at 9 p.m. and on Friday during the festival.
The Infamous Stringdusters have been on tour pretty much non-stop since the start of 2017 and have even put out a live album documenting performances of songs from their latest album of original material, “Laws of Gravity.”
But dobro player Andy Hall feels the group’s current live show will be plenty fresh – even for fans that saw the Infamous Stringdusters over the past year.
“I feel like this past year we’ve made sort of a large leap in our live show,” he said. “You know, we’ve always liked the improvised jamming element of our show, but we kind of consciously took it to this next level this [past] year, where we’re stringing three or four songs together at a time without a break in the music through improvised sections and jams. And so now we have this, it’s a little less like play a song, stop, talk to the audience, play a song, stop, talk to the audience. It’s like these longer sections of music that weave through songs and choruses and solos and group improvised sections. So there may be 20 minutes of music before there’s a break.
“That takes learning techniques and skills that will allow you to do that,” Hall said. “I feel like it’s changed our show a lot.”
The growth in the live show is just the latest part of what is making the “Laws of Gravity” cycle a landmark period for the Infamous Stringdusters, which includes Hall, fiddle player Jeremy Garrett, bassist Travis Book, guitarist Andy Falco and banjo player Chris Pandolfi.
The seventh studio album from the band, it found the group re-embracing their bluegrass roots, particularly on songs like “Freedom,” “Black Elk” and “A Hard Life Makes A Good Song,” earning critical acclaim and then at the end of January, something more. “Laws of Gravity” was named cowinner of the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album with Rhonda Vincent’s “All The Rage – Volume 1.”
Hall considers the Grammy perhaps the biggest honor his group has earned.
“It’s known as the biggest award in music,” he said. “I mean, there are smaller organizations that are awesome. For us, we’ve been part of the International Bluegrass Music Association for years. And back 10 years ago we received some awards from them. That’s awesome because that’s getting recognized by your peers that are in that genre. But the Grammys, it’s all of music. You’re recognized sort of in a broader sense. So yeah, it’s really exciting.”
Now it’s back to the daily business of being a band and building on the success of the “Laws of Gravity” album, which got a bit of a boost last spring with the release of the “Laws of Gravity Live” album, which compiled live versions of the songs from the studio album that were recorded during the early months of the touring cycle.
The decision to release a live counterpart to the studio album had a lot to do with when and how the “Laws of Gravity” songs were written.
“This album is the first time we’ve ever waited until the album release to play the songs off of the album live. We’ve always sort of written the songs and started playing them in the show before we even record the album,” Hall said. “So when we started touring on the album and playing those songs live, they quickly kind of took on a life of their own…We wanted to sort of get it out there. So even though it was only four months maybe after the [studio] record came out, a lot had happened with those songs.”
As touring continues this fall, the band is also working on the launch of their new record label, Tape Time Records. Hall said in today’s environment, labels don’t offer better distribution than a band can arrange or funding to make albums.
“It’s sort of like, OK, if we can get the distribution and they’re not going to give us any money to make a record, why would we do that [sign with a label]?” Hall said.
But there’s another goal for the label – a way to bring bands together and create a sense of community.
“The bigger part of the reason we started this is because in some ways, the jam grass scene, if you will, I’ll use that word, is kind of a disparate, fractured thing… Everybody’s kind of just doing their own thing,” he said. “There’s no central place that the art all happens…So we want to start basically making ways to team up, to pool our resources, to pool our energies and have it maybe be something that artistically can be real interesting. Maybe it means there will be more collaboration [between bands]. Maybe we’ll be able to write with some of these artists and get these records released, or guest on each other’s records or make a compilation, just sort of make one centralized location where some of this stuff can all live together and create together. That’s sort of the exciting part.”