Somewhere in the miasma of the non-televised Grammy Awards on January 28, 2018, the Bluegrass Album of The Year was announced. Oddly, it was a tie, between Rhonda Vincent and The Rage’s “ All The Rage” and The Infamous Stringdusters’ “Laws of Gravity”. Both are deserving winners.
The Stringdusters are an interesting case, however. Their only previous Grammy nomination was nearly a decade ago, for an instrumental (“Magic No. 9”) written by Jesse Cobb, their mandolin player who left abruptly in 2011. Since then, The Stringdusters have toured small clubs, gradually increased their billing in larger Americana/Roots festivals, and have cemented their status as an unmatched live show. Their current tour, “Across The Great Divide” is throwing astounding live shows at listeners in modest venues nightly.
In the bluegrass world, the Stringdusters are a breed apart. Despite their solid bluegrass roots, and their adhesion to bluegrass form (they are more likely than not to start the current tour shows with “Big River”), the traditional bluegrass world has been slow to embrace them. Maybe it’s the Grateful Dead-style jams and transitions. Maybe it’s the Petty, or Police, or Phish or Daft Punk covers. It’s noteworthy that the Grammy Bluegrass Album of the year was not even nominated by IBMA, let alone a winner.
It was high on a mountain in August 2010. The headliners at the Saddleback Bluegrass Festival (long since defunct) were The Del McCoury Band and The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience. Heady stuff. Around 3 pm, after the local bands had shown their skills, after the 10 year old kid did a few songs with his uncle, but long before the headliners appeared, The Infamous Stringdusters took the stage. They had no local juice. They announced that their van had broken down on the way to the show. They flattened the place.
That’s what music does; it jumps up and grabs you by the throat, impressing with the craft and passion of the players. The Stringdusters’ set on that August afternoon was like getting hit with a cartoon anvil. One the one hand, The Stringdusters had nothing at stake that day. On the other, they laid it all out there to an unsuspecting crowd, winning the day.
Years and countless shows later, they still bring it. This is a band who won a Grammy with a record issued on one of the most respected labels in bluegrass music (Compass). Yet, three days before the Grammys announced they were starting their own label. These are artists with great purpose, in it for the long run.