After purchasing a couple chilled Negra Modelos from the well-stocked bar off the main lobby, Phil and I passed through high archways into the heart of the historic El Rey Theatre in downtown Albuquerque last Wednesday night. An anticipatory buzz immediately enveloped us as we picked out two seats behind a small round table on which to set our drinks. We soon found our feet tapping and our heads bobbing along with the rest of the thickening crowd… and the music hadn’t even started!
“I’m here for the [Squash] Blossom Boys,” said the young attractive gal next to us. And from somewhere behind, we overheard patrons chatting up the talented and “knock-your-socks off” headliner, on the last leg of their winter tour, The Infamous Stringdusters. We then spotted Dustin Orbesen, lead singer and dobro player for the Boys, passing out drink tickets before the show. One individual to whom he was sure not to provide a little red stub was their 15-year old mandolin player, Tristan Scroggins, who had just arrived from Denver for the gig. “He ditched school today to be here,” Dustin informed me with a huge grin and proud eyes. Several minutes later, Dustin and Tristan, along with Kyle Malone (guitar), Kit Murray (banjo) and Pedro Lisignolli (bass) were on stage with fingers flying and instruments blazing! Young Tristan wore a black “Get Plowed” t-shirt. With bangs riding just below his brow but lacking the facial hair of his fellow band mates, he initially looked out of place; however, his dexterity with the mandolin quickly outweighed his youth.
As it turns out, Dustin is somewhat of a storyteller on stage, something I personally enjoy. So all five of the Boys were huddled around a single microphone, like happy hobos warming themselves over a railcar fire, with Dustin spouting fantastic stories, each relating to every song they performed, and the audience digging every word, pick and melody. The Boys introduced a guest fiddler, local musician Aaron Combs, about seven songs in. All told, they performed ten amazing and varied harmonies, from originals (including a song by Kit’s brother which I thoroughly enjoyed) to Jimmy Martin (aka “King of Bluegrass”) tunes and an absolute favorite by Dolly Parton, "I Feel the Blues Movin’ In."
Following a brief interlude, and the purchase of a couple more beers, the lights dimmed… that anticipatory buzz once again kicked up its heels… and the crowd finally erupted! The Infamous Stringdusters had taken the stage.
In contrast to the Boys’ more relaxed look, the Stringdusters appeared to be tight, orderly, and very well orchestrated. They had three microphones across which they fanned out and confidently strutted the stage, working every nook of their crimson-lit platform. Band members Andy Hall (dobro), Andy Falco (guitar), Chris Pandolfi (banjo), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle), Jesse Cobb (mandolin), and Travis Book (upright bass) quite simply moved and grooved, entertaining their guests with a smooth, flowing, and remarkable rhythm. Dancers stormed the floor, and Jeremy played so fiercely he shredded his fiddle strings, seemingly, before the second song!
In addition to an incredible catalog of what I assume were mostly originals (this is where some story-telling ala Dustin would have come in handy for newcomers) and a fantastic display of dueling string instruments towards the latter end of their performance, the sextet led into a form of spontaneous improvisation, what I came to acknowledge as “free string”, a vibrant homage to free jazz. They really blew me away at the beginning of their set, though, when they performed U2’s legendary "In God’s Country."
Many thanks to Dustin and the Squash Blossom Boys (who, attention fellow fans, are gearing up for opening dates with the Meat Puppets), The Infamous Stringdusters (who will tour this summer in support of their new album, Things That Fly, set for release on 4/20/10), and the amazing Jams of Enchantment staff (including Matt Nida whom we had the great pleasure of meeting at the show) for putting on a “blossoming” program at such an “infamous” Albuquerque venue.