Phishing season is upon us, with jam-band legends Phish opening up its summer tour with a two-night blowout at Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 17-18. Thousands of Phans will descend to the shores of Tahoe to listen to their favorite band move and groove through their ocean-sized catalog, hoping to catch a favorite song or next-level Type II jam. Anyone with a microphone and a tape-reel certainly will be praying to hook the next “Tahoe Tweezer.”
The festivities will continue after the main event each night with Phish Aphter Parties presented by Devildog and Fresh Bakin.’ MontBeu Resort Casino & Spa will host Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe with DJ LoveKnuckle and Rambo, while Harrah’s South Shore Room will host The Infamous Stringdusters with special guests The Kitchen Dwellers. On nights like these, the magic in the air certainly will translate into early morning jams and the alluring prospect of all-star sit-ins.
The Infamous Stringdusters’ slide guitarist Andy Hall is looking forward to the shows. A Phan since the early days, he’s been enjoying getting back into the band after some time apart. He’s applied the daft musicianship and improvisational spirit of Phish in his own playing, whether that is with his Grammy-winning buddies in The Infamous Stringdusters (they won Best Bluegrass album for last year’s album “Laws of Gravity”), sacred steel master Roosevelt Collier or with Page and Fishman themselves. Hall was kind enough to relay his experiences playing with all of those greats to Tahoe Onstage earlier this year, as well as what he wanted to accomplish during summer and where his Grammy is. One thing was clear after talking with Hall: Once a Phan, always a Phan.
Thanks for jumping on the phone, we appreciate your time. What’s your day looking like right now?
Just walking the dog right now on a nice pleasant day in Colorado.
We’re excited to have The Infamous Stringdusters in Tahoe.
Nice to be there. We haven’t done an after-show gig in a while so it will be fun.
How many Phish shows do you have under your belt?
Probably 20, maybe. I was a big fan in the early ’90s, I saw my first show in 1992. I saw them a lot for about five years then kind of fell away as I started getting into my own musical life and didn’t see them for quite a while. I think my last show of the ’90s was The Great Went, then almost 20 years went by (laughs), and I saw them maybe three years ago.
I’m really loving getting back into Phish. Yeah, I’ve seen about 20 shows and we got some other Phish fans in the band. I went to Berklee College of Music and used to transcribe Phish songs for my assignments. I was into it (laughs).
Did you have anyone else you used to follow around as feverently? Who else were you digging at that time?
I was seeing The Grateful Dead until Jerry died. Being a music student I was sort of into bands like Aquarium Rescue Unit and Medeski, Martin and Wood. They were just getting started. When I was at Berklee I was pretty much in the same class as the guys from Soulive and Lettuce, so those guys were getting started, too. Back then it was Bela Fleck and The Flecktones and being into bluegrass it was Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush and those guys; I definitely traveled to see them. With jam bands it was a little more sparse back then. But with all of those guys it was a musician’s musician type thing.
Do you know of any fans who travel as much to see the Stringdusters as one might The Grateful Dead or Phish?
We do. We have fans like that and it is pretty awesome. Our Facebook fan page called “Got Dusted?” — which is what they call going to a show— is super active. We have people who have been to 150 shows. For us that is pretty good and we’ve got some super avid fans and more and more people are getting turned onto it. It is fun to see that, to see fans explore the history of the band. It develops its own kind of myths and stories and I enjoy that. I love hearing about people’s stories about when they first saw us, who they met at the show. Of course people have met their wives and husbands and partners at our shows. It’s fun to see that fan community develop on its own.
Going back to Phish, you guys actually backed up Phil Lesh and Friends a couple LOCKN’s ago and Page and Fishman came out. What was that like? How did that come to fruition?
That was awesome. We had been lucky enough to develop a friendship with Phil and he’s been great about developing friendships with younger bands, I love that he is so into that. It was great to play with Page and Fish. We had actually played with Mike Gordon years ago in Nashville when we just started, at this little bar. He got up and played banjo with us. Playing with Page and Fishman was awesome. We had a rehearsal that day and we kind of got to know them a little bit, rehearse and play together. It was a real pleasure, those are like heroes of ours. It’s fun to get to share the stage with them.
Last year you put out an album with Roosevelt Collier, “Let the Steel Play.” It’s basically a nerd-out, slide player’s album. How did ya’ll meet up? What do you like about Collier’s playing?
Roosevelt and I met on Jam Cruise in maybe 2012 or 2013. He just blew my mind. I’ve been playing slide guitar for a long time and there’s not that many of us, so in a way I thought I had kind of seen it all. Then this player came along who I had never heard of and just blew my mind.It was so refreshing and so cool. He plays more in the sacred steel, gospel-funk style, but with us being guitar players we hit it off right away. We had him sit-in with the Stringdusters, I sat-in with his band and we just developed a cool friendship.
We kept in touch and he told me he was coming to Denver, where I live ,and I said I would book a day in the studio just for fun (chuckles). I just wanted to play and record a couple songs just for the hell of it. So he came over to my house the day before and we went in the next day and recorded. When I was listening back I was like, ‘dude, next time you are in town let’s book a couple more days and make a record.’ For me, it’s been super inspiring to have another slide player come and push me and give me new ideas. Roosevelt has definitely been that.
Going deeper into the slide thing, is there anything you two share because you are slide players that other musicians just wouldn’t get?
The sound is really unique because there’s no frets, it sounds almost like a voice. Two slide players is sometimes considered a faux-pas because people think it cannot maybe sound great, due to tuning issues and people sliding all over the place. So when you get two people that can mesh on slide guitar it’s a very special and unique thing, it is not common. They are lead instruments not rhythm instruments, so a duo slide record sounds a little odd.
We have a background of similar tunes — whether it is blues or gospel — that are common between genres that really lend themselves well to slide guitar. He and I had somewhat of a common repertoire of similar songs and we were able to show each other stuff that we didn’t know. He showed me some gospel and I showed him some bluegrass, I love that common thread. When you play a weird instrument and you see someone else play it, too, it’s fun to pick each other’s brains. There’s no rule book to slide guitar so it is fun to go in deep with someone.
Per usual the Stringdusters have a bunch of shows this summer, from touring to festival appearances. I was curious, do you have any personal goals on how you want to approach your playing or what you want to do when you are not on stage, stuff like that?
We are about to go into the studio to record, so the Stringdusters are about to have a bunch of new music. As far as the shows for the summer, we have headlining slots at a bunch of great festivals. I just want to do as much as I can to move the audience, to feel engaged and excited is my whole goal for the summer. To get the audience as riled up and awesome.
For our band, to continue to deepen our improvising together, we’ve gotten pretty good at that. When we are on tour 20 dates in a row, you really get the flow. But when you fly out for just a festival and it’s one, two, three, jam, it can be a little trickier. I feel like we finally hit our stride with that, where we can jam and improvise in real natural way right off the bat. I’m just really looking forward to that; improvising with my buddies and making the crowd feel great.
One last question before you go. Where is the infamous Grammy? Where is it housed right now?
(Laughs) I think it is still being made in Ridgeway, Colorado. Hopefully it will show up in the mail one of these days. They custom make them all and I’m pretty excited to get it when it comes.
— Garrett Bethmann
Infamous Stringdusters with The Kitchen Dwellers
Tuesday and Wednesday at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s South Shore Room; Doors at 10:30 p.m., show at 11
Tickets: $25 in advance or $30 at the door
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
Tuesday and Wednesday at Blu in the MontBleu Resort and Casino; Doors at 10:30 p.m., show at 11
ABOUT Garrett Bethmann
Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. An eight-year resident of Lake Tahoe, he now lives in Denver, Colorado.