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Hiking Through Bluegrass:Stringdusters harness spirit of outdoor adventure through song 

click to enlarge 16.43-sound-stringdusters_-credit-tom-daly.jpg

Then they went for a bike ride.


Look no further than the song “Night on the River” from bluegrass princes The Infamous Stringdusters to find that this band’s music is an escape from the daily grind into the beautiful wild.

In a song about giving up on worry for at least one night by boarding a raft and drifting carefree down a river on a crisp night, The Infamous Stringdusters capture the essence of what their music is about—loving the outdoors. It’s a bell the Charlottesville, Va., band has been ringing since releasing their first album in 2007, and one that should resonate with Bend when the group performs at The Domino Room on Nov. 2.

The Stringdusters back their songs with traditional bluegrass instruments and play them with expert precision. Banjo, fiddle, upright bass, Dobro and guitar merrily dance through every ditty, evoking thoughts of campfire sing-alongs and good old-fashion-dusty-boot romping. While frolicking with Mother Nature is at the heart of The Stringdusters’ music, Dobro player Andy Hall acknowledges it is also about capturing the spirit of the people who do the frolicking.

“We jokingly call our music high country music,” said Hall in a recent interview with the Source. “It’s music for the mountains and people who like to enjoy life and be outdoors, drink craft beer and attend festivals. It’s sorta spiritual and larger than our little lives.”

For members of the band, there is an intimate connection between their music and the way they live their day-to-day lives.

“Music and life to us are not separate things. Even when we are on tour we ski. We have five bikes with us right now and are getting ready to go on a ride,” said Hall, who was standing in front of a café in Massachusetts when we spoke. “The [songs] we play embody the joyful feeling you get when you’re outdoors.”

On The Stringdusters’ latest album Silver Sky, that joyful sound is evident from the first track “Don’t Mean Nothing,” through the last song on the album, a horn-infused cover of The Police’s “Walking on the Moon.” Between those two songs is an album just as reliant on traditional bluegrass as it is on forward-thinking nuances to the genre.

The record’s third track, “The Hitchhiker,” features a flamenco guitar interlude while the seventh track, “Heady Festy,” dabbles in slow moving instrumental jazz. The results of this approach are accolades from sites like Jambase for taking bluegrass in new directions.

Hall modestly deflects that sort of praise.

“I think that conversation is hard to avoid when you come from a niche style of music,” said Hall. “I think with anything whether blues, jazz or bluegrass, there is always a discussion about the traditional way it was done and expanding the genre. So we aren’t new to it, but it’s our time to have it.

But, he said, The Stringdusters do aim to put their own spin on bluegrass.

“We spent a long time learning how to play traditional music,” said Hall. “It takes a lot of time and talent to play. But we are a product of the ‘80s and ‘90s, so the topics [of traditional bluegrass] don’t relate to us. We weren’t raised in cabins.”

But it is these modern times that Hall says are driving the rise in the popularity of bluegrass.

“I think in the modern world there are a lot of things that are not necessarily real,” said Hall. “Even people’s interactions are digital. Fantasy is cool, but it’s fleeting in its enjoyment. I think there is a desire to go back in to time to an art that is real. Real people playing instruments together and acoustic music and bluegrass are a part of that. There is something very pure about it. Things you can actually do that are simple—like being on the river, provide you lasting satisfaction. It gets you away from your computer.”

Providing that tangible experience for their listeners has The Stringdusters focusing on live performances more than recording albums.

Their live shows are known for long instrumental solos that whip crowds up into dancing frenzies. And they even have their own music festival called The Festy Experience, which is held in Virginia and devoted to live bluegrass. Still, Hall said The Stringdusters is a band that enjoys recording when it comes time to cut a record.

“There’s something really awesome about the creative process of making a record,” said Hall. “It’s your time to be off the road and write and develop and talk about music. But record sales are hard to come by.”

Now four studio records and one live album into positioning themselves amongst the next generation of bluegrass greats, The Infamous Stringdusters continue to create all the experiences that inform their music, even in the midst of a cross-country tour. As Hall recounted on the phone, the preceding 24 hours were a great example of how those inspirational experiences unfold.

“Last night was the first night of our tour in Brooklyn,” said Hall. “We all arrived in New York City, went to Sirius radio and did a recording for Bluegrass Junction. Then went back to the bus, did sound check and played the show at Brooklyn Bowl. After that we hung out with friends and family and partied before leaving town. We just finished breakfast and now we’re getting ready for a 20-mile bike ride.”

Guys, we recommend breakfast at The Vic and a ride to Mt. B. And if you’re looking for company, we’re sure you’ll find some takers in these parts.


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