2018 Grammy Award-winning The Infamous Stringdusters returned for their second headlining performance at the Mission Ballroom stage on Friday. The bluegrass quintet showed Denver bluegrass fans once more why they manage to hold their spot at the top of the game. Unsurprisingly, the show was even better than expected, with the Stringdusters well known for consistently bringing the heat and yet inevitably topping even the highest expectations each time they come through town. With an impressively strong handle on gracefully teetering the line between traditional bluegrass music and mind-bending, music-altering jamgrass, the Stringdusters combine the best of both worlds when it comes to their genre—Friday was yet another example of the mastery of their craft.
For half of the band and much of their crew, the Mission show was a hometown performance and an ideal setting to kick off the first night of the next leg of their tour, which runs through next spring with only a few breaks in-between. Taking the term “hometown throw-down” all too seriously, the Stringdusters ripped straight into “Rise Sun,” the biggest tune off of their 2019 album of the same title. Known as a democracy when it comes to your typical band line-up, the Stringdusters traded off vocals throughout the evening, with fiddle player Jeremy Garrett taking over on “Wake the Dead” before passing the reigns to upright bassist Travis Book for “It’ll Be Alright.”
Falling between the more traditional tunes came heady jams that boasted the talents of Garrett and featured trance sounds from banjoist Chris Pandolfi, playing bluegrass’ favorite instrument. Guitarist Andy Falco sang back-to-back on “Back Home Again” and “Toward the Fray,” keeping a stoic pace for a healthy portion of the first set. The crowd raged as Garrett returned to the microphone for “Fork in the Road” and welcomed one of those aforementioned lengthy jams that sent fans spinning. “Moon Man” and “Toy Heart” came next to close the first set, with the band promising a long and unprecedented second set to come, and boy, did they keep their promise.
The second set brought heater after heater, and it was hard to tell if the Stringdusters love their partial hometown just that much, or if the band’s sound is somehow still getting exponentially better, cleaner and tighter. Seemingly on some other metaphysical level, “Truth and Love” and “Y2K” came to open the second set, and that’s when things started to get really funky. Fan favorites like “Gravity” and “Just Like Heaven” brought euphoric smiles to the crowd, the latter with Falco leading on vocals and accompanied by Andy Hall’s razor-sharp playing on the dobro.
No stranger to cover songs, the Stringdusters have a way of covering any song, of any genre, and making it especially their own. Take The Police’s “Walking on the Moon,” which Book sang smoothly as the bluegrass band rolled beautifully through the late ’70s reggae-rock tune. They can also take on Jerry Garcia with the best of them—the second set saw a bluegrass rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “He’s Gone.” Or the jam band kings Phish, with the five-some blowing the roof off with their beloved version of “Possum.” Past midnight, the Stringdusters took their leave following “Truth and Love” and a brief “Not Fade Away,” graciously thanking their fans before embarking on what’s sure to be an uproarious tour for the jamgrass legends.