Acoustic bluegrass band The Infamous Stringdusters have toured non-stop since the start of 2017, long enough to cut a live album of songs from its Grammy-winning studio album “Laws of Gravity.”
But Dobro player Andy Hall feels the group’s live show is still plenty fresh — even for fans who saw the Stringdusters over the past year.
“I feel like we’ve made a large leap in our live shows,” Hall says. “We’ve always liked the improvised jamming element of our show, but we consciously took it to this next level, where we’re stringing three or four songs together at a time without a break in the music through improvised sections and jams. And so now we have this, and it’s a little less like playing a song, stop, talk to the audience, play a song, stop, talk to the audience. It’s like these longer sections of music weave through songs, choruses, solos and group-improvised sections. So there may be 20 minutes of music before there’s a break.
“That takes learning techniques and skills,” Hall says. “We didn’t have that in our tool box before. So now it feels like a whole new world has opened up that is almost limitless in how far we can develop. I feel it’s changed our show a lot.”
The Infamous Stringdusters perform Wednesday, March 7, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St., Ashland. Minneapolis-based trio The Last Revel opens the show with an acoustic blend of folk and rockabilly. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 the day of the show, and can be purchased at liveatthearmory.com. Doors open at 7 p.m.
The Stringdusters — Hall, guitarist Andy Falco, banjo player Chris Pandolfi, fiddler Jeremy Garrett and double bassist Travis Book — have enjoyed spontaneously creating the improvised pieces to bridge their songs, and they’re working toward making sure that feeling translates to the audience.
The growth in the live show is just the newest part of what makes “Laws of Gravity” a landmark period for the Stringdusters.
The seventh studio album from the band, it found the group re-embracing its bluegrass roots, particularly on songs like “Freedom,” “Black Elk” and “A Hard Life Makes A Good Song,” earning critical acclaim and then at the end of January, something more. “Laws of Gravity” was named co-winner of the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album with Rhonda Vincent’s “All The Rage: Volume 1.”
Hall considers the Grammy perhaps the biggest honor his group has earned.
“It’s known as the biggest award in music,” he says. “We’ve been part of the International Bluegrass Music Association for years. And 10 years ago we received some awards from it. That’s awesome because it's recognition by our peers in genre. But the Grammys, it’s all of music. You’re recognized sort of in a broader sense. So yeah, it’s really exciting.”
Being at the Grammys was a whirlwind experience for the Stringdusters, who first attended after the band was nominated in 2011 for Best Country Instrumental Song. This year, the band came straight to the ceremony from a tour stop and jumped right into the festivities.
"You go basically to enjoy the day and see the sights,” Hall says. “You get to see every type of genre, from blues awards to chorale and classical music. I love seeing that because it’s all these different worlds of music that I don’t normally get exposed to.”
Now it’s back to the daily business of being a band and building on the success of “Laws of Gravity,” which got a bit of a boost last spring with the release of the “Laws of Gravity Live” album.
The decision to release a live counterpart to the studio album had a lot to do with when and how the “Laws of Gravity “ songs were written.
“For the first time, we waited until the album was released to perform the songs from it," Hall says. "We've always played our songs before we recorded them. So when we started touring behind the album, the songs quickly took on a life of their own. Inevitably they evolve once you begin playing them live. And our fans love the live sound. There’s an energy there that’s different than the studio. We take more risks. The jams are more evolved and longer, and there’s just sort of an excitement that gets captured in the live setting. Though it was only four months after the (studio) record came out, a lot had happened with those songs.”
As live shows continue this winter and spring, the band also will launch its new record label, Tape Time Records. In addition to the Stringdusters' own future albums, the band has signed bluegrass band Horses and Hand Grenades and released that band's album, “The Ode,” and hope further signings will follow. The new label just made sense for the Stringdusters’ own career.
“You don’t need a record label to get great distribution. We can do that ourselves with our management (which partnered with the band in starting Tape Time Records),” Hall says. “In the past, record labels would give you some money to make a record. Imagine that. Now they don’t do that, either. So then it’s sort of like, OK, if we can get the distribution and they’re not going to give us any money to make a record, why would we do that? But that’s just one part of it.
“The bigger reason we started the label is because, in some ways the jam grass scene is kind of a disparate, fractured thing. Everybody’s kind of just doing their own thing,” he says. “There’s no central place that the art all happens. So we want to start basically making ways to team up, to pool our resources and energies and create something that can be interesting artistically. Maybe it means there will be more collaboration. Maybe we’ll be able to write with some of these artists and get records released, or guest on each other’s records or make compilations. Make one centralized location where some of this stuff can live and create together. That’s the exciting part.”