Infamous Stringdusters

The Infamous Stringdusters — Chris Pandolfi, banjo, Jeremy Garrett, fiddle, Andy Falco, guitar, Travis Book, bass and Andy Hall, Dobro — return to Jackson Hole as part of their 2021 fall tour, bringing new material from their forthcoming album “Toward the Fray.”

They’ve come to town often enough, let’s just agree to refer to them as “our” Infamous Stringdusters from now on.

“It’s a place that has embraced us as long as we’ve been touring,” banjo player Chris Pandolfi told the News&Guide last week. “They helped us figure out what we’re all about. … It’s a gift to be on tour at all, and especially in a place that has been so welcoming to the band.”

The rollicking prog-grass quintet is on the road again, on its first full tour since the coronavirus pandemic locked the doors on venues all across the country. And, as has become its habit, the band has included Jackson Hole on its eight-show swing around the northern Rocky Mountains.

Pandolfi, guitarist Andy Falco, Dobro player Andy Hall, fiddler Jeremy Garrett and bassist Travis Book are due to play the Center Theater tonight at 7. Acoustic folk trio The Sweet Lillies open the evening with originals from their latest CD, “Common Ground,” as well as unorthodox covers (see story below). As of Monday evening the concert had sold out; contact the Center for the Arts to get on its wait list.

The Stringdusters have a new disc due out in February, “Toward the Fray.” Its last studio release, “Tribute to Bill Monroe,” hit the airwaves last May. There’s also its holiday album, “Dust the Halls,” with a few singles for Hannukah, that was released in December 2020 and solo recordings by each bandmate: Pandolfi’s “Trance Banjo,” Falco’s “The Will of the Way,” Garrett’s “Won’t You Remember My Name,” Hall’s “12 Bluegrass Classics for Resonator Guitar” and Book’s ongoing “Bluegrass at the Crossroads series. So it’s safe to say there’s plenty of new material to wow fans with.

“We have had a lot of downtime,” Pandolfi said, “and got to be home for more than a minute. None of us in the band have done that for the last 15 years, really.”

“Toward the Fray” was actually recorded last year.

“It’s got some timely themes,” Pandolfi said, “maybe a bit more serious angle.”

The cover art forewarns as much, with a little girl in a gas mask dragging a flaccid teddy bear as the bombed out remains of a city, or maybe the world, smolder behind her.

“We’re in some grim times right now,” he said. “As we get older as artists, there’s more of a tendency to observe and understand the world more comprehensively, to look at world around us. We’re in a little bit of a different place, things that need to be talked about.”

On the other hand, some things haven’t changed, like the foundational place Bill Monroe still occupies in bluegrass music, even 25 years after his death.

“That’s a nod to our common thread,” Pandolfi said. “That’s what brought us together. It was cool to dig into the archives and do some Monroe stuff.”

The banjo player acknowledges not only the style of music Monroe contributed, but also a musical perspective, a fundamental approach to both the technical aspects of playing traditional bluegrass instruments but also to the attitude with which it is made and delivered.

“We write more eclectically … bring more modern styles,” he said. One can categorize bluegrass bands as “traditional” or “progressive” if one wants to, “but that’s all that subjective, and at the end of the day we’re a bluegrass band and we owe everything to those early founders of the music.”

Pandolfi is quick to add that The Stringdusters are also a performing band — playing live in front of warm bodies is what they do the best. The recording studio is a place where musicians can do things they could never do live, and the band has taken advantage of the technological tricks available there, but much of the music they have made has been created with an audience in mind.

“It depends on the record,” he said of using the studio as an additional instrument. “Some it’s more drastic, some, like this new record, you’ll hear stuff live, even all of it, and it will be a close replica of what’s on the album — five of us singing and playing at the same time. There’s not a lot of instruments or sounds added. We try to make it live, to capture the sound of the band, the energy, to capitalize on this thing we’ve created. … What’s best for the song? What’s best for the music? If it needs an extra step to make it work, we’ll take that step. We just do the best we can in the music and the moment, whether that’s in the studio or in front of the crowd.” 

Contact Richard Anderson at 732-7078 or rich@jhnewsandguide.com.

Since moving to Jackson Hole in 1992, Richard has covered everything from local government and criminal justice to sports and features. He currently concentrates on arts and entertainment, heading up the Scene section.

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