You could pick up an album by The Infamous Stringdusters at an indie record shop. You could download a few tracks online. You could even catch their new music video on YouTube. But the real deal, says upright bassist Travis Book, is what happens when he and his string-picking bluegrass brethren get on stage.
“You can only get the real thing in one place,” Book said, “and that’s wherever the five of us are.”
Book, with guitarist Andy Falco and fiddler Jeremy Garrett, Chris Pandolfi on banjo and Andy Hall on dobro, is part of the current lineup of The Infamous Stringdusters, a band that has earned acclaim for its music since its 2007 debut album, Fork in the Road. Right out of the gate, it earned album of the year honors from the International Bluegrass Music Association and its title track was named song of the year. More recently, the group earned a Grammy nod for Best Country Instrumental Performance for a song from its third album, 2010’s Things That Fly.
But Book says their business is primarily live music: Touring and playing music festivals. They’ll be ringing in the New Year with four consecutive dates on the East Coast including a stop at the State Theatre Saturday, Dec. 29, where fans can expect a night of boisterous bluegrass for high-energy holiday audiences.
“You’re probably going to dance, you’re probably going to drink lots of beer, and you’re going to have an amazing time,” Book said.
The State Theatre isn’t too far a trek from the band’s home base of Charlottesville. Virginia holds much early history in the music they make, Book said. It’s also home to The Festy Experience, a fall festival the band launched in 2010 that brings together an eclectic mix of acts for a weekend of music in Nelson County. The Stringdusters play many festivals each year, and Book says festivals and other communal aspects to bluegrass music are part of what makes the scene exciting.
“Festivals bring a lot of different kinds of people together. You can play anywhere, because you don’t have to plug in,” Book said. “There’s also a shared lexicon of bluegrass music that everyone knows so you can get together and have a jam and play music for days and never have to repeat tunes because everyone just sort of knows how they go. It’s just really fun music, really social.”
Playing music live, Book said, is the “one thing that musicians still have control of.” But even in recording music, the Infamous Stringdusters still try to go their own way. A few years ago, they started putting out their music independently.
“We took our music back and started distributing it and releasing it on our own terms,” Book said. For Silver Sky, their latest album, they asked fans to stand in for the record label and front the cost of production. In a way it was a means of gauging interest in an album, he said: If they put up the money, then they wanted the album; if they didn’t, they didn’t. They did, and in March came the digital release of Silver Sky. The physical album was released this fall with a bonus track and an added live disc.
Recording music is still a valuable process to the band, Book says, and one they enjoy. In fact, the band has new material and wants to get back to recording soon. But when looking to what the New Year will bring, he sees the band focused on the stage.
“We’re feeling like after seven years playing as a band, we’re finally figuring out how to play together really well, and what we want to do, and how we want to spend our time,” Book said. “And that’s playing big shows in beautiful places for beautiful people. That’s the plan.”
• For more information about The Infamous Stringdusters, visit thestringdusters.com.