We don’t know exactly what makes Andy Falco, Andy Hall, Jeremy Garrett, Chris Pandolfi and Travis Book — better known as the Infamous Stringdusters — so infamous but they definitely carry a reputation as one of the baddest, gnarliest group of pickers in the country. They returned to the Tahoe region Sunday night in the Crown Room with some special guests to once again show why they have earned such prestige.
String for string, the Infamous Stringdusters are one of the most impressive bluegrass bands of the last 10 years. Dobro player Andy Hall and his accomplices Andy Falco on guitar, Jeremy Garrett on fiddle, Travis Book on double bass and Pandolfi on banjo have created a new standard for a bluegrass band that can do it all, with their diamond-sharp playing and lush harmonies going hand-in-hand with a musical curiosity that has never been hung up on the traditional trappings of the genre. They have always kept the music interesting, from stretching songs out and passing solos around like a bottle of whiskey at a backwoods party to jamming with Bruce Hornsby and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Its latest album “Ladies and Gentleman” adds another spice to the life of the Stringdusters in seeing the band collaborate with a host of female vocalists for all 11 tracks. To bring the album to the stage Sunday night the band played with Tahoe favorite Nicki Bluhm and Celia Woodsmith for a handful of songs spread throughout the two sets. Woodsmith took the energy from her opening set with Della Mae and shot it through a stirring version of “Old Whiskey Bottle” from “Ladies and Gentleman.” Her voice simmered over the coals of the brooding licks from Garrett’s fiddle and Hall’s Dobro. Her vivacious stage presence fanned the flames and her woodsy croon fit in well with the acoustic nature of the band.
Where Woodsmith’s bluegrass pedigree helped create a familiar sound for the Stringdusters, Bluhm provided a bit more contrast to band’s aesthetic. She was total Laurel Canyon in hip-hugging jeans and a tight-fitting white top and colorful scarf and had an enchanting and mysterious vibe to her, two words that don’t usually describe a Stringdusters show. It proved to be a righteous combination that showcased Bluhm’s strength to captivate a crowd with her rich voice. Bluhm was sultry and vulnerable on “Have A Little Faith” and the band set the mood with a slow, soulful bounce. With fans wooed into the serenity, the band immediately burst into a rousing version of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” that blew the crowd’s face off. Bluhm’s powerful voice soared over the surging strings and it was exhilarating watching Bluhm and the Stringdusters flying together.
When the ladies were not on stage the band was busy getting into its old tricks of blazing string battles. “Cant Stop the Changes” showcased Hall’s sterling picking skills and his bronzed harmonies with Garrett and Book throughout the show were enough to make one lose their breath for a second in awe. “Well, Well” has been a surefire jam vehicle for years and Sunday night proved no different as Falco and his guitar box took an extended sojourn as the rest of the band crowded around him. “Fork in the Road” proved to be another highlight of the night, his Hall’s pistol-quick neck work going note-for-note with Garrett’s indomitable fiddle playing.
The Infamous Stringdusters left the stage with a crowd begging for more and in the end maybe that is the band is so infamous: It is just plain cruel to have such a good band only be able to stick around for one night.
Related story: A second take on the Infamous Stringdusters at Crystal Bay: LINK