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Frets and friends

Progressive bluegrass band Infamous Stringdusters to perform this weekend at Pickin' in the Panhandle

Progressive bluegrass band Infamous Stringdusters to perform this weekend at Pickin' in the Panhandle

September 04, 2008|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. -- Jeremy Garrett, vocalist and fiddler of the up-and-coming progressive bluegrass band the Infamous Stringdusters, calls his bandmates a "bunch of good guys."

But even band members have their limits when combining sticky, summer weather and six guys stuffed into a 15-passenger van.

That's why Garrett, 32, says it's nice to get a chance to rest, relax and get in some alone time before coming together again as a group. "You can't beat a job that gives you time to surf," Garrett says during a telephone interview from Vista, Calif., last week.

Garrett and the rest of the band -- Dobro player and singer Andy Hall, mandolin player Jesse Cobb, bass player Travis Book, guitarist Andy Falco and banjo player Chris Pandolfi -- were granted a three-day break before going back on the road for another gig. The group's next stop was the Four Corners Folk Festival in Colorado, before they headed East to play a few sets in the Carolinas. They'll have to hop back into the van to drive north for their West Virginia concert this weekend.

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The Infamous Stringdusters will play two sets at the Pickin' in the Panhandle West Virginia State BBQ & Bluegrass Festival at Lazy A Campground in Hedgesville. The two-day festival kicks off Saturday, Sept. 6, with plenty of bluegrass music and barbecued food. The band takes to the stage on Sunday, Sept. 7.

The Infamous Stringdusters has had a whirlwind couple of years. The band started out as a trio in 2002 with Hall, Pandolfi and then-guitarist Chris Eldridge before moving to Nashville, Tenn., in 2004. Garrett, Cobb and Book came on board soon after.

For the band, 2007 was a year of change. They released their debut album, "Fork in the Road," with Sugar Hill Records. After Pandolfi left in 2007, the band added Falco to its current line-up. They were on the road playing 150 dates. And in that same year the Infamous Stringdusters was named Emerging Artist of the Year and won Song of the Year and Album of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Awards.

"Awards really helped a lot. We've only been together for a few short years and I think they helped get us noticed," Garrett says.

Using the momentum of the awards, the Infamous Stringdusters wasted no time getting back into the studio for their sophomore album. The result was "The Infamous Stringdusters," which was released in June.

Garrett says the second album is more of a true reflection of who the Infamous Stringdusters are as a band than compared to their debut release.

In the age when audience-approved, guaranteed hits are a must for albums, the Infamous Stringdusters took a different tack. All of the songs on the Infamous Stringdusters' sophomore 13-track release are brand new -- even to loyal fans.

"None of the songs were road tested," Garrett says. Road testing, Garrett explained, is helpful for testing new material. "It's great to bounce it off an audience and see how they react," he says.

But writing music just for the album allowed the group to trust their musical instincts. Still, Garrett says, as the group plays cuts from the new album, some of the music has been tweaked.

"It's definitely evolved on stage," he says.

And the stage, Garrett says, is where the music comes alive. Improvisation on stage is something the band is embracing and Garrett says they've been working on what he calls "segues," which inserts one song into another.

"We try to improvise as a unit," he says.

Those who are turned off by the mere mention of bluegrass are encouraged by Garrett to take a listen to the Infamous Stringdusters. "Some hardcore bluegrass fans don't even think we're bluegrass at all," he says.

Instead the group -- none of whom are natives of the Appalachian region where bluegrass got its start -- use their own musical influences of rock, country, folk and blues combined with bluegrass to mold into what's called "progressive" bluegrass. Because of that, their fan base is different from other, more traditional bluegrass bands.

"Just like walks of life, you have different kinds of fans," Garrett says.

Regardless of who's in the audience, Garrett promises a great set.

"We really try to mix it up," he says.

For Garrett, who spent a few years touring with his dad, Glen, as a highly respected duo, says music is what's most important.

"It's a huge part of my life," he says.




If you go ...



WHAT: Pickin' in the Panhandle West Virginia State BBQ and Bluegrass Festival

WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 6, and Sunday, Sept. 7

WHERE: Lazy A Campground, 317 Kathy's Lane, Hedgesville, W.Va.

COST: Tickets in advance are $5 or $10; 3 and younger free; $18 for a weekend adult pass. Tickets in advance can be purchased at the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau; call 304-264-8801 or go to www.panhandlepickin.com. Tickets at the gate cost $5 or $15; $20 for a weekend adult pass.

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