Dusting Off 2018: The Infamous Stringdusters to play New Year’s Eve at the Wheeler Opera House
IF YOU GO …
Who: The Infamous Stringdusters
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Sunday, Dec. 31, 9:30 p.m.
Tickets: Sold out
More info: www.wheeleroperahouse.com
They may have a banjo, a fiddle and a dobro onstage, but the Infamous Stringdusters are unbound by bluegrass tradition.
In their adventurous live shows, the Stringdusters’ songs metastasize into soaring jams. Their hits are peppered with covers and other surprises. Their creative covers — long a signature of the Stringdusters’ live shows — have birthed the “Undercover” series of EPs. The band released the second “Undercover” volume this fall, featuring bluegrass takes on a far-flung menagerie of artists — My Morning Jacket, Daft Punk, Marvin Gaye and the Allman Brothers.
“As a bluegrass band, it’s fun to try and play all these styles,” dobro player Andy Hall said recently from his home in Lakewood. “As a band that’s something we strive for — not to feel limited in what we can play because we’re a bluegrass band. We want to play soul music and rock and let all of that filter through the bluegrass instrumentation and see what comes out the other side.”
But their set lists these days are leaning heavily on material from “Laws of Gravity,” the band’s eighth studio album, which was released in January and is nominated for a Best Bluegrass Album Grammy Award.
“In past recordings, there have been some songs that stand out and some songs that just don’t translate to the live show quite as well,” Hall explained. “For this one, they all do. Everything off ‘Laws of Gravity’ has made it into the rotation for our live shows, which is really cool. We’ve never had that happen before.”
The band is capping its big 2017 with a New Year’s Eve show at the Wheeler Opera House. Hall and his bandmates love playing New Year’s Eve shows.
“Artistically, it’s like the punctuation mark on everything we’ve done in the year,” he said. “It’s always a little rowdy and we tend to play late — so it’s a good thing.”
These road warriors usually take a short break from touring after the new year. After the Aspen gig, Hall and some of his fellow Stringdusters are plotting a road trip to hot springs around Colorado.
Though at this point the Stringdusters regularly sell out large venues in major cities, the band still regularly makes the rounds in Aspen and around ski country.
“We love to play the mountain towns,” Hall said. “We’ve been doing that since we’ve been a band. And Aspen is one of our favorites — we have a lot of friends up there, we ski up there, we try to enjoy the mountains as much as possible.”
Breaks from touring are rare for this Virginia-based band that’s built its following on its enthralling live shows. Yet while touring incessantly, the Stringdusters have managed to put out a studio album almost every year since 2007, along with a steady stream of EPs and they remain prolific songwriters.
Hall chalked that up to the routine the band has worked out over the past decade. All five members write songs. While they’re on the road, they share their new ideas with one another.
“What we’ll do is we’ll get on the tour bus and during the day we’ll schedule an hour or 90 minutes — a little bit of time to show each other the songs that we’ve been working on,” he said. “So then we’ve got this big long list and we narrow it down over time and begin to put the Stringdusters stamp on it, which is in the arrangement process. It’s what I love about the Stringdusters.”
Through that communal arranging process, every member’s fingerprints end up on most every song. They’re each deep in the writing process right now and expect to go into the studio to make another record this spring or early summer, Hall said.
Like most every American artist right now, the Stringdusters have been compelled to respond to the country’s divided, divisive politics. A “Laws of Gravity” standout track, “This Ol’ Building,” a stark warning about the future of the country, was written in response to the 2016 presidential election. “Maxwell” is about economic inequality. And the band has long woven environmental messages into its music.
“It’s gone from something we talk about amongst ourselves to the kind of things that do come out in our songs,” Hall said. “We want to draw you into the conversation. We may not write something like Eminem’s freestyle rap on Donald Trump, but we do want to talk about issues. It’s one of the reasons you become an artist.”
And as a band founded in Charlottesville, Virginia, the deadly events that arose out of the white supremacist rallies there this summer shook the Stringdusters to their core. Hall said the band — which hosts its annual Festy Experience music festival outside Charlottesville — wants to represent the more tolerant Charlottesville community on the national stage.
“We love Charlottesville and we hate what happened there,” Hall said. “We hate what the white supremacists stand for. … To see intolerance is hard to watch and impossible to keep quiet about.”
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