By Dan Ruby
Bay Area mandolin legend David Grisman made a surprise guest appearance last night with The Infamous Stringdusters at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley Thursday night, as the progressive bluegrass sextet barnstorms California this week on the heels of its triple win at the recent IBMA awards.
Grisman joined the six bluegrass gunslingers during two sets, playfully exchanging riffs with mandolinist Jesse Cobb and the other Stringdusters on Bill Monroe's "Blue Night" and "Deep Elem Blues," among several others. Grisman, also known as Dawg, was introduced as "a long-time hero and a new friend," and he returned the favor by calling the band "some of the hottest young pickers around."
Afterward, Cobb told me that the Grisman appearance had been unexpected and unrehearsed. Cobb had invited Sam Grisman, David's 17-year-old bass-playing son, to come to the show. As an aside, Cobb said to feel free to bring his dad along.
Then, during sound check, the two Grismans walked in. "David told me, 'I can play slow, I can play fast, and I also just like to listen,'" Cobb said.
The rest of the Stringdusters were in fine form and fine voice. The ensemble vocals of Jeremy Garrett, Travis Book and Andy Hall are fantastic singly and in harmony. The instrumental genius is front and center with Chris Pandolfi on banjo, Cobb on mandolin, Hall on dobro, Garrett on fiddle, Book on bass, and newcomer Andy Falco on guitar erasing any regrets about Chris Eldridge's departure from the band. (See related post for more on Falco.)
The band is as good as it gets on traditional bluegrass, but really earns its soaring reputation on the progressive improvisational side. Their set is punctuated with three or four jazzy instrumentals, and several of the verse and chorus songs also feature explosive improvisatonal breaks.
The band performed the hits from its debut CD—"Fork in the Road,""No More to Leave You Behind," "Starry Night," "Poor Boy's Delight" and "Tragic Life"—and mixed in some newer and traditional material.
This appearance was a return engagement for the Stringdusters at The Freight. Last May, they appeared here together with Tim O'Brien, and then followed that up with a standout debut at Strawberry Music Festival in Spring 2007. At that time, the band was known mainly to bluegrass cogniscenti in northern California. Now, judging by the full Thursday night crowd, the band has a sizable local following.
Last month, the Infamous Stringdusters walked away with three honors at the IBMA Awards—Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year. On the strength of that performance, the band was invited to perform at the Grand Old Opry, where they will debut next week on Nov. 23.
The Infamous Stringdusters have an extensive 2008 festival schedule on tap, including Wintergrass, Old Settlers', MerleFest, Winnipeg Folk, Grey Fox and Rockygrass, among others. The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, including Sam Grisman on bass, also has some festival dates booked, including Grey Fox.
Maybe we will see another Dawg-Duster combo on the hill at Grey Fox in July.
Friday, November 16, 2007
By Dan Ruby
Posted by Dan Ruby at 10:57 AM