I’m pretty sure it was March of 2006 when I got a lucky break that took me to South By Southwest for work, and I vividly remember a daytime set by a very new band just signed to Sugar Hill Records with the fabulous name The Infamous Stringdusters. I knew a couple of the guys in the band from bluegrass circles, and I was carried away immediately by their fresh vision and slick musicianship. My message to them after that set was “if there’s anything I can do…” and it turned out there was. The guys graciously invited me to ride along with them during their second tour of the jamgrass friendly state of Colorado, and the result became a short film called Four Days Of Infamy, which profiled a quintessential 21st century band in its formative stages.
Nine years, two personnel changes, five studio albums and hundreds of shows later, the Dusters are in the top ranks of the organic, jam-friendly bluegrass/acoustic scene, alongside peers like Yonder Mt. String Band and Greensky Bluegrass. Where they were playing coffee houses and bars on that early tour, now the Dusters are a major part of the Colorado scene. I’m so looking forward to welcoming my friends to our stage on what really is an all-star night. We’ll be hearing from the great folk rocker Peter Case, golden throated country music icon John Conlee and a good-time string band Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. Prepare yourself for what ought to be one of our blockbusters.
The evolution of the Infamous Stringdusters has been a joy to watch, hear and dance to. The guys all have deep background in and passion for traditional bluegrass music, and it’s shown in their music from the beginning. But they were one of those ideal starter bluegrass bands, a band to help the uninitiated have that life-changing a-ha moment. They’ve all written material and they have three lead singers, giving the music remarkable variety while it maintains a core vibe. They are stunning musicians who listen and play off one another like symbiotic organisms. Songs take journeys, like a steam powered aereo-plane on the wings of Chris Pandolfi’s banjo, Andy Hall’s dobro, Andy Falco’s guitar and Jeremy Garrett’s fiddle. Bass player Travis Book has brought a romantic glimmer and creative thinking, typified by his striking cover of Sting’s “Walking On The Moon.” I’ve seen them in rock clubs in cities, on the main stage at Telluride and the Loveless Barn some time ago. It’ll be a huge pleasure to welcome them to our Liberty Hall stage this week.
From the heady, trippy Rocky Mountains we take you all the way to the corridors of the Grand Ole Opry with an appearance by the much admired John Conlee. Most famous for his melancholy but magisterial “Rose Colored Glasses” from 1978, that self written smash was the beginning of a career that produced 26 top 20 singles and a lot of accolades for his romantic, throaty baritone. He’s been an Opry member since the early 80s and he was part of Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid shows early and often. Raised on a Kentucky tobacco farm, he’s the classic case of a regular guy who made it big in Nashville. His aura is one of reassuring normal. But he sure can sing.
Peter Case is so concise on the subject of what he does that I can’t help but quote him directly: “I’m a singer/ songwriter that uses all the American styles to get my stories across : Blues. Rock and Roll. Country. Soul. R&B and Folk. Plus some rhythmic influences from around the world. I’m trying to forge my own style out of those inherited materials.” That jibes with what I know. His first famous band the Plimsouls was right up my jangle pop alley in high school. But it was a string of superb solo albums from the mid 90s on that really grabbed my lasting attention and admiration. Peter Case Sings Like Hell is a solo showcase of in-your-face blues and folk. Torn Again has been cited as one of his high water marks. Flying Saucer Blues was my favorite with varied guitar atmospheres and the twangy bon bon “Coulda Shouda Woulda” (co-written with late Nashville master Duane Jarvis). Today Case is out with the brand new HWY 62 project, a gorgeous and contemplative slab of Americana with DJ Bonebrake (X) on drums and Ben Harper on guitar. He’s made a lot of great music over the decades with a few consistent threads: a firm, rolling fingerstyle guitar attack, a searching intelligence, a bold, chapped voice and a bottomless reserve of integrity.
Rounding out our foursome this week will be Horseshoes & Hand Grenades out of Stevens Point, Wisconsin. They’ve been on the same scene at played shows with the Stringdusters, so we offer a big of continuity here. What I can glean puts HS&HG somewhere on the old-time jamgrass spectrum near the Whiskey Shivers and Old Crow. And there’s some real fresh songwriting as well. This should be a dance friendly show and we encourage that. Maybe we’ll catch you doing so and put you on the internet and you’ll be infamous too.