With dobro in hand, Colorado-based bluegrass musician Andy Hall will head off with the Infamous Stringdusters on a national concert tour that kicks off Jan. 20 in Albany, New York, and arrives in 17 states through early April. It’s a lot of traveling in a short time, but Hall hopes to add one unscheduled stop to his itinerary — Los Angeles, home of the 64th Annual Grammy Awards.
The Infamous Stringdusters received a Grammy nomination in November for their Bill Monroe tribute album, but the awards show, scheduled for Jan. 31, has been postponed because of the pandemic. As they wait to hear a new date, the bluegrass group has 33 concerts to perform through early April — a hectic schedule that calls for Hall to employ his travel strategies.
“The way I avoid burnout on the road these days is no alcohol, positive attitude and conserving energy during the day,” says the 46-year-old musician. “I used to try to pack on as much as possible while touring — hikes, skiing or sightseeing. These days, I focus on the show and the music and being in the best form for showtime.”
Hall has performed in 50 states with the Infamous Stringdusters, who release a new abum Toward the Fray on Feb. 18. The group’s 2018 album Laws of Gravity won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album, and the band’s song “Magic #9” was nominated for a 2010 Grammy for best Country Instrumental Performance.
He recommends five festivals for music fans looking to travel this year to a traditional bluegrass festival: Grey Fox in Oak Hill, New York; RockyGrass in Lyons, Colorado; the Bluegrass Island Festival in Manteo, North Carolina; Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick, Maine, and Delfest in Cumberland, Maryland. In addition, there are many small festivals, particularly in the Southeast, “where you can see top-notch bluegrass,” he says.
Hall’s bluegrass career has come a long way since growing up in Binghamton in central New York and attending Binghamton High School.
“The Binghamton area is beautiful — rolling hills, forests and lots of medium-size towns,” he says. “Not a lot is happening there, but there are lots of colleges in the area, it was a great place to grow up and there were awesome down-to-earth people. I used to have a somewhat negative view of my hometown, but I think that just went along with the urge to escape and see the world. I went back recently to receive a distinguished alumni award from my high school and was really impressed with what they have going on with music and theater. It changed my view of my old high school for the better!”
Hall left Binghamton to attend Boston’s renowned Berklee College of Music.
“Boston is an amazing town — arts, music and culture everywhere,” he says. “It’s where I began my bluegrass journey, and I played in Boston bars and at New England festivals.”
Hall spent eight years in Boston. He then realized he needed to move to Nashville, the home of bluegrass masters.
“Nashville was basically musical grad school,” he recalls. “I spent the next 11 years meeting my heroes and learning to play from the best. Nashville has so much growth and vibrant energy and is truly one of America’s greatest cities. It all feels new there, but Nashville also has such a rich history.”
Hall now lives in a Denver suburb, Lakewood, and enjoys Colorado.
“I love the dry air, the sun and the mountains,” he says. “I ski, hike, camp and run around in an incredible landscape. It inspires me musically and in life. The mountainous terrain can be dangerous, and I love that. The live music scene is second to none — endless quality venues and the fans come out in force to see live music.”
The natural beauty of Colorado and some other favorite places in the USA create a warm, welcome vibe.
“I tend to like big features, which is why I gravitated to the Rocky Mountains,” Hall says. “Washington State and Oregon are incredible with their volcanoes and lush forests, and the Columbia River Gorge is special. The area near Bears Ears in southern Utah is mind-blowing. The native culture and the geography make for a pretty magical zone.”
Other favorites include the “amazing” Maine coastline and Bar Harbor; summer on the water in northern Michigan, and America’s deserts.
“The dry open spaces are what really hit me in the soul,” Hall says. “The vast quiet of the desert puts everything into perspective.”
Abroad, Hall has performed in Canada, Mexico, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but he says the “most stunning geography” he has ever seen abroad was in Peru.
“I spent a month traveling through the Andes 20 years ago and am yearning to go back,” he says. “There are massive volcanoes and ancient vibes, and remote takes on a new meaning there. High in the thin air, you get a bit dreamy, and the landscapes dominate. There are huge areas where most people don’t go. The infrastructure is less, so the majesty of the landscapes is even more imposing. Your van might break down. You may stay in a shack with no power. Things are more simple in some ways.”