This week, the folks at the Sheridan Opera House dished some really good news. Pandemic-weary music lovers can circle in red on their calendars the dates Sunday, March 27, and Monday, March 28 — that’s when progressive bluegrass powerhouse the Infamous Stringdusters return to Telluride. Tickets are on sale now at sheridanoperahouse.com.
The band, beloved by Telluriders, is touring this winter in support of its latest album, “Toward the Fray,” which will be released Feb. 18 on the band’s own label, Americana Vibes.
Former Watch music columnist Kathrine Warren (The Warren Report) is an avowed fan and has been since the band’s earliest days.
“I have been a big fan of the Infamous Stringdusters ever since of the release of their first album almost 15 years ago and to see the trajectory of their career over the years has been a real treat,” Warren told the Daily Planet. “Each time I see them, they seem to get better and better with their infectious onstage energy and camaraderie between the band members. Coincidentally enough, they were the last band I saw indoors at the Sheridan Opera House before the pandemic shut down indoor shows for far too long, and it is so exciting and poignant to be able to see them on the same stage almost exactly two years later.”
Maggie Stevens, Sheridan Arts Foundation’s director of marketing and public relations, is delighted to be able to secure a booking for this ever-hotter band.
“We've had the Dusters several years in a row — with one snowstorm cancellation in there — and they always deliver an unforgettable night,” Stevens said. “They even filmed a music video in the theater, so it feels a bit like having an old friend back. But you kind of realize that old friend has become super famous. They come back here because they love Telluride and the Sheridan Opera House, not because we're the biggest venue in the region. They’re are getting harder and harder to book since they're so popular, so to have two nights with them after a rough couple of years just feels like a big moment.”
The new record came to be under the isolating circumstances of lockdown, when each member of the band composed songs separately and then exchanged demos to one another over the phone. Travis Book (bass), Andy Falco (guitar), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle), Andy Hall (Dobro) and Chris Pandolfi (banjo), once reunited, recorded the record, one that displays the band’s cohesiveness and connectivity, despite the rigors imposed by the pandemic. By the time they got together, it was as natural as can be to plug in and play.
“With all of our records, we always go into the studio to capture the live energy of our band, so I feel like we were all comfortable just plugging right in and getting started,” Pandolfi said. “All five of us have arrived at this point in our careers where we all produce — we produce our own music and some of us produce for others. We knew we could get it done with all that collective intel and know-how. One of the awesome things about being in this band is that everybody is always working on their instrumental game. When we show up for a new tour or a new album, we all get a chance to dig even a little deeper — and you can hear that part of it. That's always been part of our mantra.”
“Toward the Fray” tackles current events with an unflinching eye. The song “I Didn’t Know” confronts the disparity of life in the U.S. as experienced by Blacks and whites.
“For me, it was a heavy time, with the pandemic slowing everything down, but what affected me the most was the death of George Floyd,” said fiddle player Garrett. “I can't say what an impact that had on me personally, being an average American white guy going along through life, not necessarily fully understanding what the other side of the fence was. I took a deep look at myself because of that story. I got inside of my head and wanted to write about it. Several songs on this record come from that vantage point, trying to put more thought into, how can we bridge this gap that has happened? ‘I Didn’t Know’ is about that. I didn’t know we had to pay attention to these things. It was a wake-up call for me.”
For bassman Book, the songs reflect one’s individual responsibility to take part in changing the world for the better.
“All five of us took that opportunity for our consciousness to evolve, and we took the responsibility seriously,” Book said. “That’s what I hear when I listen to this record. The songs are very honest and real, but what other option do we have? There’s a responsibility as citizens of this country and as citizens of Earth, for all the reasons — ecological and cultural — to lean in and to turn toward the battle. Everybody brought a lot of conviction with their tunes. Everybody came with a clear idea of what their statement was going to be. I think because of the situation we were all in, a harmonious and collective sound came out of that.”
Falco said the over-arching theme of the album is that “we’re all in it together,” a sorely needed message of unity and collective action in solving social and environmental issues.
“To me, the theme of ‘Toward the Fray’ is about dealing with your problems head on, rather than running away from them,” Falco said. “One of the things that I’m really proud of is that this record is true to all of us. It’s a genuine record because it really is about everything that we were all going through. We’re talking about the pandemic and all of the chaos, but we’re talking about love and other things, too. We were able to reflect and dive deep and look inward during all of this. I hope people who hear these songs will feel like they’re not alone. That’s what we always hope that people can relate to in our songs — that we’re all in it together.”
The Stringdusters’ tour this year has them teamed up with stringed brethren Greensky Bluegrass and Dustbowl Revival on numerous dates. The Telluride shows will feature the band on its own, heating up the historic, intimate opera house with new tunes and gems from its extensive catalogue. By March, the pandemic will have stretched two, full years. The Infamous Stringdusters will dose fans with a high-energy excuse to dance away the doldrums and experience live a batch of fresh, meaningful tunes off the new record.
Opera house staff fully expects this show to sell out, and quickly, so grabbing a ticket sooner than later is advised.
“Tickets are selling quickly and we expect them to sell out in the next coming weeks,” Stevens said. “One of the nights was halfway sold by the end of the day we announced, so Telluride and our patrons' love for them has definitely not waned.”
Proof of vaccination or a negative test will be required to enter the opera house.
Visit sheridanoperahouse.com for tickets and other winter shows on the schedule.