When Gravity and Armageddon collide in a particularly rich vein of deep rock, the world stops spinning and joy stands still, completely full of itself.
In Asheville’s Orange Peel on Friday night, it was “Guitarmageddon” that stole the show and rocked our world as opener Billy Strings, local guest Jon Stickley and Infamous Stringduster Andy Falco provided earth-shattering covers of “Deep Elem Blues” and “The Sunny Side of the Mountain” to celebrate the release of the ‘Dusters new album “Laws of Gravity.” With those three guitarists on the same stage we were only a (Larry) Keel short of a full boat of the best flatpickers alive today – and the album adds a raging torrent to the genre of progressive bluegrass in an art form the Stringdusters have perfected. Feeling at home in the first venue they ever sold out many years ago, the Dusters showcased their amazing blend of sophisticated musicianship and searing vocals with such perfection that they sometimes began sharing glances and smiles with each other even before they nailed an awe-inspiring syncopation change. They were on fire – and they and the assembled Jamily knew it, felt it, and reveled in it all night long. Even Jeremy Garrett’s centenarian fiddle was looking for someone to high-five – especially after screamin’ and rippin’ through “A Place Called Home” and “Sirens” jams.
Asheville is a savvy music town, so it’s no surprise the venue filled up early to hear Billy Strings, the man-child who can shred walls into molten rock without missing a smile. Leaning into the mike, he asked, “Can you Peeeeeel it?!” before busting into “Meet Me at the Creek,” one of his originals. Throw in several mind-bending jams throughout his forty-five minute set and it’s easy to see why one rail rider exclaimed afterwards, “Well, you can cross one of my three New Year’s resolutions off my list – I got to see Billy Strings live!”
It was album debut night for the Stringdusters and “Laws of Gravity” rose like a phoenix. When a new crowd favorite, “A Hard Life Makes a Good Song,” benefits from an elegant “Where the Rivers Run Cold” sequel early in the set, you know it’s going to be a magical night. Later, a touching debut night rendition of “Maxwell” was dedicated by bassist Travis Book to his wife Sarah, while “Gravity” featured heaven-sent banjo riffs from Chris Pandolfi. “Vertigo” struck deep with Andy Hall on lead vocals and dobro. “1901: A Canyon Odyssey” provided a heartfelt takeaway as the first song of the encore with Falco leading vocals on the beautiful saga of his own writing.
All in all, one felt not only the bedrock power of “Laws of Gravity” but in the aftermath – when the dusting settled and the world began to spin again – it was enough to know that you were in midst of bluegrass friends and soulmates both on and off the stage.
Set One: You Can’t Stop The Changes, Where The Rivers Run Cold, A Hard Life Makes a Good Song, Winds of Change, Paddy On The Turnpike, Maxwell, The Place That I Call Home, Walking On The Moon, Once You’re Gone, Gravity, High Country Funk
Set Two: Sentenced To Life With The Blues, I’m Head Over Heels In Love, Sirens, Vertigo, What’s That You’re Doin’?, Deep Elem Blues, Sunny Side Of The Mountain, Get It While You Can, By My Side, Tragic Life, Echoes Of Goodbye, Long Lonesome Day, Fire, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, Getting Down The Road
Encore: 1901: A Canyon Odyssey, My Sweet Blue Eyed Darling
Written by Chuck Flournoy
Photographs by Marisa Muldoon