Colorado is a wonderful place for music of all kinds. The variety of shows makes picking a venue quite the painstaking process for fans in the area. Possibly the most fitting form of music in Colorado’s past, present, and future is and will always be bluegrass.
Would you call Colorado the bluegrass capital of the world? Andy Hall says yes, “And this is coming from a guy that lived in Nashville for 11 years.”
The Infamous Stringdusters‘ dobro player, Colorado resident, and Grammy Award winner has had a lot of different influences over the years that have helped shape the music that he plays today.
Inspirations spanning from his days at Berklee School of Music are prevalent, from Tony Rice to Roosevelt Collier, and all the way across the planet to Indian slide-guitarist Debashish.
“You would walk down the hallway at Berklee College of Music and hear Latin jazz, in another room heavy metal, in another the Jimi Hendrix ensemble, African drumming. I have always tried to soak up as much music as I can,” says Hall.
Guitar players of all styles have always been the focus of Hall as a student of music. Even being the guitar-shredding, touring machine he is today, his passion for exploring musical style remains. It begs the question: Why was dobro chosen as the specific medium, if not only for the resonated chamber capable of producing the unique sound that listeners crave?
“I started on electric guitar, getting into guys like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix as big influences, blues rock, then eventually started listening to Duane Allman and started trying to immolate his stuff on bottle-neck slide,” says Hall.
In Andy’s first year at Berklee, when he was 18, he developed a repetitive stress injury in his left hand so bad that playing a traditional guitar was no longer feasible.
“Around that time I was going through a pretty dark place, because I thought I was going to be a guitar player, and around that time someone played me a record called Skip, Hop and Wobble by Jerry Douglas. When I heard Jerry Douglas for the first time, it showed me that slide guitar can do anything,” says Hall.
Formerly thinking that it was mainly used for blues, Andy was delighted to see the range that slide guitar has. Out of something so dark can come something so beautiful, and we all could use a reminder of that from time to time.
“In hindsight, it was the perfect thing,” says Hall on his hand injury.
During his time in Nashville, Andy played in Dolly Parton’s band for records such as Those Were the Days, which featured covers of 60s folk songs in a bluegrass style, certainly defining an enclave of country/bluegrass Americana music.
While a twangy banjo may induce the thought of rural backwoods, he says some of today’s bluegrass simply doesn’t reflect that sentiment.
“You hear a banjo, and people think yee-haw and ‘Deliverance’ and all that, but once you get over that you realize that there is an amazing, energetic, deep music, that doesn’t really have anything to do with that country mentality. It is a medium that sounds amazing that we use to get our songs across, [as do] bands like Greensky Bluegrass, Billy Strings, among others.”
Colorado is the well-known home of bands like Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon, and The String Cheese Incident, with songs that sing the praises of the beauty and majesty of the Centennial State.
“These are some of the three most influential jam-grass bands ever, and they are all from Colorado. That style was invented here. People come to Colorado because they love the lifestyle, they love to get out and be active, and jam-grass is the perfect soundtrack for that lifestyle,” says Hall. “It fits the geography,” he continued.
The jam-grass scene has exploded across the country in the last 20 years, with these Colorado bands pioneering the way. However, fans of these bands can tell you that the style is much more than straight bluegrass.
“Our sound, of course, is bluegrassy, but it has evolved over time. We continue to try to get better always, try to refine our show, to get better as musicians. Traditional bluegrass is about people taking trains, living in cabins, living on farms, none of us do that, and neither do a lot of the people we play for,” says Hall on his work with The Infamous Stringdusters.
The band plays in a style that is reminiscent of these themes musically, but the contemporary lyrics often hit home for a larger group of people. Something about the timbre of the music fits into Colorado’s society so well, situated in the west, yet at the forefront of American music.
Winning a “Best Bluegrass Album” Grammy award for their 2017 release Laws of Gravity catapulted the Dusters into the upper echelon of the bluegrass/jam-grass scene.
“The award itself is great and all, but it brought a little more awareness to us, you just want the opportunity to show people what you can do,” says Hall.
The Infamous Stringdusters begin their first of six Colorado shows in Telluride at the Sheridan Opera House on March 7th. While this show is sold-out, there are still five more opportunities to get some grass for that ass in Colorado.
The band plans a quick stop in Salt Lake City, then a 2-night run in Aspen at the intimate 400-person Belly-Up, on March 10th and 11th. Nestled in the Elk Mountains, people can give themselves the most quintessential Colorado experience: shred some gnar by day and watch the Dusters by night.
Then it’s over to Washington’s FoCo, a beautiful, newly renovated venue in the heart of Old Town, Fort Collins, on March 12th. Banshee Tree, an eclectic four-piece ensemble that toes the line of electric and acoustic sound, creating “earthy dance music,” will provide support for this show.
“I saw them and became a fan right away,” says Hall on Banshee Tree.
To wrap the Colorado run, the Dusters will be making their debut at Estes Park’s legendary Stanley Hotel on March 13th-14th, with Wood Belly and The Sweet Lillies as openers. Hall played on The Sweet Lillies’ last record, which produced by Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman. Head to The Infamous Stringdusters’ website for tickets and more tour information.