The Infamous Stringdusters really know how to ring in the New Year, with constant themes of love and resilience throughout their music, they encourage their fans to find a home amongst each other, and above all, to keep moving forward no matter what. They came together with some of their most faithful fans to bring that spirit to Richmond, Virginia last weekend, for two unforgettable evenings at The National.
Opening up the weekend’s festivities was the Jon Stickley Trio, who set the tone with some of their newer instrumental material, and finished off with a medley of popular cover songs.
The Infamous Stringdusters started with “Run to Heaven,” a tune from last year’s Ladies & Gentlemen album that has emerged as an important addition to the song rotation over the course of the year. A familiar “Big River” got the juices flowing before the band really settled into “Walking on the Moon.” As fiddle player Jeremy Garrett glided through the signature opening notes of The Police’s classic, it was immediately apparent that the band was dialed into their collective comfort zone. “Place That I Call Home” was an inspired affair, with Garrett belting out “Richmond is my home, tonight!” as the appropriately placed anthem came to a close. They treated fans to “This Ol’ Building,” the politically-driven single off of their upcoming album Gravity, due January 13. “In God’s Country” was an epic, exploratory version of the U2 hit, seeing the band whip up a picking storm that had The National coursing with electricity during set break.
With minds on the year behind and hearts in the year ahead, “It’ll Be Alright” could not have been a better choice for the second set opener, urging fans to have some faith in themselves, inspiring confidence to go ahead and take that chance, for there is no time like the present. Travis Book then led the way on a cover of one of his favorite musicians, with a warm rendition of John Hartford’s “Keep on Truckin’.” The crowd got involved with the next one by clapping the legendary rhythm of the Grateful Dead’s “Not Fade Away,” per tradition. Usually reserved for a set closer, this early set placement worked perfectly to set the stage for special guest Jon Stickley to come out and tear it up during “All That I Can Take,” originally composed by Leftover Salmon’s Andy Thorn, and then the antebellum tune “Angeline the Baker.” Masters of their instruments, the interplay between guitarists Stickley and Andy Falco was astonishingly tight. Even for world-class musicians, it takes hours of arrangement and rehearsal to deliver the level of concentration, timing, and collective consciousness that makes every Dusters show so special.
The next few songs were very well-received, with favorites “Places I’ve Been,” “Where the Rivers Run Cold,” and “Highwayman,” originally released by The Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson) and a longtime gem in Stringdusters’ sets. The ensuing “Space” was got way out there, featuring a tease of the Star Wars theme song, in tribute to the late Carrie Fisher. This exploded into a hard-hitting “No More to Leave You Behind,” and the energy only continued to grow with a hoppin’ “17 Cents” before the cherished Dylan cover “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” After paying due tribute to it’s original writer, banjo virtuoso Danny Barnes, Book delivered an impassioned vocal performance on “Get It While You Can.” Right after this, the whole band flew down to the floor, planted a single microphone in the middle of the crowd and went to work on an unforgettable “Black Rock,” complete with a tease of Phish’s “First Tube,” and a screeching break from Jeremy Garrett that had the place in an uproar. From the depths of a legendary pile, the sound was incredible, and the energy was through the roof, as the Stringdusters finished off one of their rowdiest shows of the year, surrounded on all sides by some of their closest friends, fans and family. The boys climbed back on stage for a quick, fitting encore of “Uncle Pen” by the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe.
Set 1: Run to Heaven, Big River, Peace of Mind, Walking on the Moon, The Place That I Call Home, Hobo Song, When Silence is the Only Sound, Well Well, This Ol’ Building, Travelin’ Teardrop Blues, In God’s Country; Set 2: It’ll be Alright, When You Were Young, Keep on Truckin’, Not Fade Away, All That I Can Take, Angeline the Baker, Places I’ve Been, Where the Rivers Run Cold, Highwayman, Space, No More to Leave You Behind, Cents, Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, Get it While You Can, Black Rock, Uncle Pen
Billy Strings got the New Year’s Eve party started with his hot, kickin’ style of flatpicking guitar. At 24 years-old, Strings is undoubtedly, one of bluegrass’ most promising young stars, and he proved that with a fiery opening set that rocked the eager, early-arriving crowd.
The first set of the Stringdusters’ show started out with the staple “Fork in the Road,” before a playful adaptation of “Christine’s Tune (Devil in Disguise)” by the Flying Burrito Brothers. Hall burned it up on “Hazosphere,” followed up by an expert cover of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless.” Thanks to the unwavering hand of Chris Pandolfi, “Sentenced to Life With The Blues” saw a perfect transition to “Home of the Red Fox,” which evolved into a stunning jam in itself, centered around another Phish tease, “Bathtub Gin.” Fans got one more sneak peak at the highly anticipated album, with the title-track “Gravity” drawing a warm reception. “Night on the River” carried a perfect message of appreciation into the New Year, before picking up steam behind Garrett’s fiddle into a roaring “What’s That You’re Doing?” Book’s tell-tale baseline drew pre-emptive howls from the crowd as the band got ready to blast off into a nearly ten-minute “Moon Man,” to close the set. During the highest of several peaks in the instrumental monster, Garrett seemed to have the entire room wrapped around his fiddle bow.
As the Infamous Stringdusters paraded back on stage for their final set of 2016, they had steadfast, almost mischievous grins on their faces. Starting out with “Once You’re Gone,” into “Head Over Heels in Love With You,” the energy was just right for a memorable “Sirens,” which had the crowd in an absolutely barbaric state. From there, everyone went down the winding road with Book, on “By My Side,” into the wailing Garrett tune “Tragic Life.” After the decisive lyric “and I saw his silver star,” Hall came crashing in with the dobro to lead the way into an exploratory jam, which Falco picked up from a wandering desert and brought to a lively celtic dance, before heading out to the final verse. It was then time to bring Billy Strings back on stage for a little “High Country Funk,” featuring the refreshingly twisted playing of the special guest. The young mastermind kept it moving down the tracks with a nostalgic “Deep Elem Blues,” that featured a ground-shaking solo break from Book on the double bass.
The set was catered to get to a certain point before the clock struck midnight, and the band pulled it off with masterful execution, as they went down memory lane with “Summercamp,” “Starry Night,” and the instrumental “Honeydew.” With only a few minutes to go, the Dusters knew exactly the courage and love everyone needed going into 2017, as they busted out the inspiring pair of “Let It Go” and “One More Bridge,” leading up to the midnight countdown and eventually settling into a triumphant cover of “Good Lovin’” by the Grateful Dead. The rest of the evening was all about the love, as the band ripped through “Long and Lonesome Day,” en route to a ferocious “Fire,” and a lightning-fast “Echoes of Goodbye.” They wasted no time in embarking on a huge “Jack Straw” to close the set, changing the lyrics of one of the verses to “Got to go to Richmond, first train we can ride,” and driving multiple jams to their fullest extent. In celebration of two fans who had gotten engaged earlier in the evening, the Dusters played the couple’s favorite song, a stirring performance of “Poor Boy’s Delight” as the first encore. After reminding people that we need to look no further than those next to us in the crowd to find what is “real,” the Infamous Stringdusters sent us off with another Monroe classic, “My Sweet Blue-Eyed Darling.”
Set 1: Fork in the Road, Christine’s Tune, Hazosphere, Fearless, Sentenced to Life with the Blues, Home of the Red Fox, Gravity, Night on the River, What’s That You’re Doin’?, Moon Man, Set 2: Once You’re Gone, I’m Head Over Heals in Love, Sirens, By My Side, Tragic Life, High Country Funk, Deep Elem Blues, Summercamp, Starry Night, Honeydew, Let It Go, One More Bridge, Happy New Year, Good Lovin’, Long and Lonesome Day, Fire, Echoes of Goodbye, Jack Straw, Poor Boy’s Delight, My Sweet Blue-Eyed Darling
The Infamous Stringdusters’ upcoming album “Gravity” goes on sale on January 13. For more information, including upcoming tour date, visit their website here.
Written by Richard Oakley
Photos by Neil Peek