The Infamous Stringdusters
The Visualite Theatre
Charlotte, North Carolina
June 13, 2008
On Friday, June 13th the Infamous Stringdusters took the stage at Charlotte, North Carolina’s Visualite Theatre. They started promptly at show time, and they might have been the six youngest people in the room.
I entered right as they were introducing one by their producer and “hero” Tim O’Brien. I knew that it would be a good night. The first set, short but full of energy and musical surprises, rolled on and the crowd filled in, as did the dance floor. Bassist Travis Book stepped up and sang a beautiful old-timey song in a deep, mournful way. Asking his sweetheart to dance he proclaimed, “We’ll dance off the soles of your old dancing shoes.” A beautiful image which the crowd was more than happy to illustrate.
The Stringdusters are a Nashville band, with upright bass, acoustic guitar, mandolin, violin, banjo and dobro. At times they played tunes right out of the Bill Monroe catalogue – The Sweet Blue Eyed Darling – and sounded liked seasoned pros. Other times, they sounded more like John Hartford or Jerry Douglas. They did solid instrumentals, and other songs had solid vocals and the band went back and forth between them with an ease that let you know these guys take bluegrass seriously. It is not every day you see a band so young make their way out of the Nashville scene, and that alone was an easy reminder of the skill of each musician.
The band has its Nashville sound, but it had a very strong West Coast vibe, with group improvisation in the mold of Nickel Creek or the Yonder Mountain String Band. They opened songs up, tore them apart and put them back together in a way that so few acoustic groups can do. At one point during the second set, four of the guys exited the stage, leaving only Jesse Cobb on mandolin and Andy Hall on dobro to share the spotlight. They played an instrumental off of Hall’s new dobro album called "C-Bop’s (Specials Ops)" that would have made any of their Nashville heroes take notice.
As the night wore on, the Stringdusters offered up a spellbinding "Deep Elem Blues." During one of the breakdowns, the band stopped and gave Book and Cobb room to stretch their abilities. It was the first bass solo of the night and it had us wondering why he had not stepped up earlier. The two worked together and took the song way outside the box before cueing the band and coming back in flawlessly to the old classic. They closed out the set with a searing bluegrass version of Jimmy Martin’s "Sunny Side of the Mountain."
When they came back out for an encore, they seemed to have some plans, but there was someone in the crowd with a persistent request and the band obliged and played "Moon Man" off of their album Fork in the Road. It was a lengthy instrumental piece based around Hall’s dobro work, another reminder of what this Berklee school of music grad could do. They took the song far and wide and then brought it back home.
That was it for the night, but these guys are young. I think that we will be seeing more of them around.