Infamous Stringdusters bring their new Grammy to Beachland

February 5, 2018 GMT

Infamous Stringdusters bring their new Grammy to Beachland

CLEVELAND, Ohio – In George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,″ the swine hierarchy notes that “All animals are equal, but some animals are MORE equal.″

Same holds true for Grammy Awards, at least when it comes to bringing home the bacon (forgive me, Napoleon and Snowball – names you know if you’ve read the novella).

Yeah, technically, all Grammys are equal, and if you win one, you’re in the upper echelons of your particular genre. But it means more in the long run in genres like bluegrass, as Andy Hall of the Infamous Stringdusters knows.

The band that’s makes its annual pilgrimage to Beachland Ballroom on Tuesday, Feb. 13, took home its first Grammy for bluegrass album of the year last month for the record “Laws of Gravity.″

“In pop music, anyone who’s nominated in any of those ‘large’ categories, those people are already very successful,″ said Hall, who handles dobro and is one of four lead singers in the Stringdusters.

“But for anything that is like a niche – an up-and-coming blues artist or a classical performer [and people] that are in smaller parts of the industry, I think it DOES mean more,″ he said in a call to his home outside Denver.

“You’re getting the same award as Beyoncé,″ he said with a bit of a smile in his voice. “It’s hard to know how it all works, so you take it with a grain of salt.″

Whatever it means, the tiny Victrola is something that Hall and his bandmates have that can never been taken from them, and he’s grateful for that.

The band, which was born just about a dozen years ago when Hall and a few of his classmates at the Berklee School of Music teamed up, has had Grammy nominations before, for best song, but this was the first win.

He and the rest of the band are reveling in the win – “It’s something you can carry with you throughout your music career″ – but the Stringdusters are not going to take it for granted.

“To me, it seems somewhat like the luck of the draw because there’s so many talented artists,″ Hall said.

Maybe so, but there’s no doubt that the Stringdusters are not your typical bluegrass band. The music features the usual instruments – fiddle, dobro, upright bass and guitar – and those tight harmonies. But the Stringdusters’ lyrics are more rooted in folk music than Appalachian mountain music, and Hall said he believes that is what made “Laws of Gravity″ stand out.

“The song ‘This Old Building’ had some sort of pretty strong message in it related to the political climate and how we felt about it,″ he said. “Using our voice and taking our stance and having an opinion is something a lot of bluegrass acts don’t do.″

It’s all sweetened, too, by the skill set honed at the famed music school, which really is known more for its jazz or classical programs.

“Bluegrass, even though it came from a folk art and is more of an oral tradition, is a pretty involved, deep musical style that requires virtuosity in some cases and a really high level of musical ability,″ Hall said.

“What I learned at Berklee was how to practice, how to listen, how to hear melodies, how to compose,″ he said.

And yet, there is so much more to the genre than just playing the notes to perfection.

“The thing you can’t learn from a school about bluegrass is the sort of depth of the style that comes from the culture surrounding it,″ Hall said. “You can’t learn that from a book or a video. You have to learn from being around people who have been around this their whole lives.″

Doing that allows you to absorb “the soul of the music,″ he said.

That soul comes through even though the subject matter has evolved.

“I feel like the experiences of what bluegrass originally was singing about are not the experiences modern people have,″ Hall said. “Nobody’s hopping a freight train and there are not a ton of people growing up in a little cabin.″

It’s the band’s ability to grasp today that helps define the Stringdusters.

“I think we’re unique,″ Hall said. “Just being unique is not a common thing in bluegrass.

“You get some people who don’t like it because it doesn’t adhere to the traditional style, but being original is the only thing that matters to me, being an artist,″ he said.

Original and, as the Grammy win indicates, more equal. Orwell would be proud.

The Infamous Stringdusters When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13. Where: Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Road in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood. Opener: Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. Tickets: $20 in advance, $22 day of show, at the box office, online at beachlandballroom.com and ticketweb.com and by phone at 216-383-1124.