It just wouldn’t be bluegrass without a jam.
Along with the countless pickers who will circle up and play on street corners, in hotels and every nook and cranny of the Raleigh Convention Center this week, Infamous Stringdusters will host a jam of their own the night of Sept. 29 to cap off an evening of big-name bluegrass music at Red Hat Amphitheater.
Andy Hall, the band’s Dobro player, was short on details last month on the Wide Open Jam, which was still in the planning stages. But he had plenty of ideas about the vibe.
“Some of it will be the Infamous Stringdusters kind of doing our thing, which is progressive, sort of bluegrass-rooted but sort of jam-rock-influenced music,” he said from his home in Denver. “And then we’ve got a number of guests lined up that range from bluegrass and newgrass legends to some younger people that are on the scene, and so ... I think there’s going to be some really awesome special moments.”
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Among guests announced so far are Béla Fleck and Sam Bush, along with Stringduster peers Adam Aijala and Ben Kaufmann of Yonder Mountain String Band. And you never know who else might get invited onstage at the last minute – that’s part of the fun and the thrill of a festival jam.
“Honestly, part of the fun of it is being a little unrehearsed and seeing what comes up,” Hall said. “That’s where a lot of times little magical moments happen, where you don’t exactly know what’s coming, but maybe somebody steps up and takes the lead or pairs off with another musician. It’s exciting and fun and sometimes a little scary to kind of make it up as you go along, but that’s what we like to do.”
The glue that holds it all together, he said, is a long list of standards that every bluegrass musician knows by heart. Call out “Rank Stranger,” a key and a tempo, and everyone can dive right in, even if they’ve never played together before. And you can bet the audience will be singing along.
Jams, as well as more formal collaborations, are a big part of what makes the Infamous Stringdusters, well, famous. They’ve participated in the Midnight Jam at MerleFest in Wilkesboro. They also made a splash on social media last year with a flurry of festival and late-night show collaborations with Raleigh expatriate Ryan Adams and singer-songwriter Nicki Bluhm.
Next weekend, they’ll head to Arrington, Va., to host the eighth iteration of The Festy Experience, a festival the band curates and where jamming onstage and off is a big part of the scene. While the five-piece band has had a steady, tight-knit lineup for a decade, they frequently feature guests on their albums and at shows. Their 2016 album, “Ladies & Gentlemen,” features a different female vocalist – including Joss Stone, Sarah Jarosz and Mary Chapin Carpenter – on every track.
“We love collaboration,” Hall said. “It’s educational for us, and it provides the audience with something special and unique that they will maybe never see again. That’s part of the cool thing about being a musician, is the music community you’re in and playing with these other great musicians. As you come up, there’s people that you’ve listened to as you’re sort of learning and growing, and then eventually you get to play with those people and really personally experience what makes them so great.”
The Sept. 29 show is the Infamous Stringdusters’ only scheduled appearance on a World of Bluegrass stage, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see them around. After saving their voices and energy for the big show at Red Hat, the plan, Hall said, is to unwind the way they did from their earliest days at World of Bluegrass, when they were running from room to room for showcases and cramming the whole band into one hotel room:
“Probably what will happen is after the Friday night show, we’ll go to the hotel and stay up all night and jam.”
What: Infamous Stringdusters hosting “Wide Open Jam” program of Wide Open Bluegrass with Bela Fleck, Sam Bush and Yonder Mountain String Band’s Adam Aijala and Ben Kaufmann
When: 9:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh