Infamous Stringdusters’ Festy Experience spotlighted the whatever-it-is kind of music they and their friends are making
I came to the Infamous Stringdusters back in ’07, when theirs was the random review copy I pulled from my desk for a drive around town one day. To my ears, they were a typical bluegrass-informed stringband, clearly influenced by a number of other things, too. Which is to say that they were a little more accessible to bluegrass newcomers in my generation than, perhaps, someone like Bill Monrore. But, there was also some energetic quality which set them apart from the throngs of other similar-sounding bands crossing my desk. For whatever unspeakable reason, I couldn’t stop listening to Fork in the Road. (Sidenote: here’s a great feature on the Stringdusters from the archives.)
Three years later, they’ve put out two more records and, two weeks ago, held their very first Festy Experience just outside Charlottsville, VA.
Earlier this week, they sent me this video to share from behind the scenes at the Festy:
The video was shot and produced by Stringdusters’ banjo picker Chris Pandolfi, who followed up by hopping on the phone and giving me a rundown of how the festival came to be, and how it went. Here’s an excerpt from that conversation:
KR: Where did the for the Festy idea come from?
CP: The idea was to take all the experience we’ve had as a band – traveling to festivals around the country and around the world – and trying to distill all those experiences into one event that was uniquely our own. We brought all the things we’ve been a part of at other festivals and things we’re a part of in our own lives, that aren’t necessarily a part of other festivals out there already, and combined them into something new curated by the Stringdusters. We were just trying to create our perfect setting, bring in all the people we know who are tied to the band, and create a good experience.
KR: Seems like you guys managed to get a pretty versatile dream lineup, from Tony Rice to Crooked Still…a pretty diverse crowd. Were you going for any sort of style…the lineup definitely doesn’t stick to bluegrass?
CP: We definitely weren’t going for bluegrass. The one common thread was that the whole lineup were influences and friends of the band. Some people we knew better than others. Like, Crooked Still are close friends of the band, we’ve known those guys for years. Toubab Krewe – we didn’t really know those guys before the Festy, but they were a band that we are huge fans of. It amounted to a really cool scenario where all these people we know and have played with were in this one place. The Stringdusters were the lowest common denominator that brought all these people together but, stylistically, we didn’t necessarily have a goal. We just wanted it to be quality music and people who are in the family.
KR: You picked an outside-of-festival-season date in October. Was that on purpose [to not get lost in the festival frey], or is that just how it shook out?
CP: We took a look at the Farmer’s Almanac [laughs]. We knew we wanted to do it outside Charlottsville, in Nelson County, because our management team was partnering in this operation, and also the production team was the other partner. Both of them wanted to be close to the site. There was no subsitute for that on the logistical end. So, it made sense to do it Charlottsville. Once we got that locked in, that was the weekend that made sense, considering everything else that was going on. Also, because of the lead time we needed, we needed it that time of the year. It worked out great, though. The weather was beautiful and it usually is on that weekend.
KR: Was there much crossover between the bands?
CP: Yeah, definitely. There was a lot of mixing and matching of bands. That’s definitely prevalant on the scene, and is also encouraged when the musicians are friends or making new connections. I got to sit in with Toubab Krewe and it was ridiculous. It was a huge highlight for me.
KR: I notice a lot of the best records this year are from stringbands like the Stringdusters who came out of bluegrass tradition but are doing weird shit with it. I’m curious if, when you guys make music, are you trying to innovate, or are you just trying to make music you like?
CP: I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been through different phases. Now and moving forward, I try less and less to do a specific thing and more and more to make a real stink. That’s what we try to do as a band, to distill all these influences into one cohesive sound. It helps to do that when we say, “Okay, we want to make this style of music”…there’s enough compromise and blending of elements already without having to worry about trying [to do something new]. It just evolves on its own. We want to make music that works well in a live setting, but ultimately we want to make the music that’s real, that we believe in. That’s the one thing we know we can do better than anything else.
KR: Seems like that’s also the spirit behind the Festy…that you went for bands who are just good at what they do.
CP: Exactly. We just wanted quality music. That doesn’t mean any certain type of music, other than music we just like. The reason we like that kind of music is probably the same reason anyone likes our music. That’s our goal as a band, and as consumers of music.
By the way, Pandolfi says the Festy will be an annual occurence. If you – like me – missed it this time around, there’s always next year. Curious if anyone from this community went…