As synchronized spotlights painted the smoky stage, the Infamous Stringdusters flooded the Center for the Arts with scintillating strums.
The jam grass quintet, fresh from a hometown concert at Denver’s sparkling new Mission Ballroom, were full of kind words for their Jackson Hole homecoming last Wednesday. And the fans were equally eager.
“I was pumped to hear they were coming to town,” said Greg Miles, a bass player himself who appreciates the Stringdusters’ songwriting and musicianship.
“I heard them on the radio one day and was really impressed, so I looked them up and was just blown away,” Miles said.
In their Stio puffies, Miles and his friend Kirk “Sparky” Spechals didn’t exactly look like bluegrass groupies, but Sparky assured the News&Guide he was stoked for the show.
“I’m really excited,” he said before heading into the theater.
A ski patroller for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Sparky still remembers the Colorado band rocking out at the Sweethogs and Swinehearts Valentine’s Day bash at the Mangy Moose — a memory fresh on fiddler Jeremy Garrett’s mind as he reminisced about the good ole days of Jackson shows past.
“We’d be up all night with the patrollers, hopping the 7 a.m. tram from the Moose,” Garrett said between sets. “If only we knew how good we had it.”
While the fiddler defiantly held center stage all evening, the Stringdusters’ set opened with its banjo player.
Eyes closed, tongue out, Chris Pandolfi started the show with a slow, almost melancholy strum. The opening number, “Won’t Be Coming Back,” quickly swelled to the breakneck pace indicative of the bluegrass sound. After a brief introduction by Dobroist Andy Hall, the next two tunes flowed effortlessly, the rhythm in the theater rising as crowd members beat their fists in the air.
It wasn’t long before the artists left their respective stations to meet each other eye to eye, their melodies becoming tighter, harsher, stronger until the inevitable release to a familiar groove. The ephemeral improvisations seemed fleeting, precious, as if the band was coming up with a new creation on the spot, rather than rehashing the same refrain they’ve toured across the country.
When the band got to their 2017 hit, “Gravity,” fans started to sing along to that familiar, nostalgic line:
“We thought the good times were yet to come. We didn’t know we were in it.”
With a classic cover of “I’ve Lived a Lot in My Time,” originally recorded by Jim Reeves, a couple in the balcony started to swing dance.
And once they covered the more modern, “Wake Me Up” by Acivii, everyone was on their feet.
In row EE, Andrew Ruesch and his friends were eating it up. Ruesch saw his first Stringdusters show back in Madison, Wisconsin, when he was just 16, and he’s been a fan ever since. On New Year’s Eve 2018 he drove from Jackson to Denver to see them play.
“It’s so insanely important and awesome to see good bluegrass,” Ruesch said at intermission.
“Those solos were dirty,” his girlfriend added.
A few rows back, Karen Swett was swaying alongside a suite of groupies who have seen the band play everywhere from Big Sky to Sacramento.
“I feel like they were channelling the Grateful Dead,” Swett said of the band’s first number, high praise coming from the wife of a Deadhead.
“It was bluegrass but also melodic. Well, I guess bluegrass is melodic. I don’t know what it was, it was wonderful,” she said.
One of Swett’s friends remembered learning from the Stringdusters at Targhee Music Camp years ago, while Greg Meyers, who sat a row behind Swett’s company, remembered the quintet from Targhee Fest.
“It’s the kind of group I’d hear anywhere,” he said. “After the live music drought of 2020, 2021, I’m stoked to be here.”
Meyers was also stoked on the show’s opener, an eclectic trio known as the Sweet Lillies. Fresh from their third album release, “Common Ground,” the Colorado band was also celebrating signing with Americano Vibes, the same record label as the Stringdusters.
In matching black and white stripes, lead singer Becca Bisque and guitarist Dustin Rohleder grinned at each other as they riffed, backed by upright bassist Julie Gussaroff. Their set felt homey and heartwarming, but halfway through they tossed in a surprise.
Bisque, who has a self-professed proclivity for rap, pulled out a washboard and tapped along to the opening line of MC Hammer’s 1990’s hit, “U Can’t Touch This.”
Needless to say, the groove got more than a few hoops and hollers from the crowd.
“Incredibly entertaining” was how Meyers summed them up after their set. ￼