It’s not every day that one looks forward to the opening act more than the headliner, but that was me on Friday, July 8 at the State Theater in Falls Church, VA where The Founding Fathers warmed up the crowd for the Hackensaw Boys to party down. It was the excitement of seeing this first performance of the Founding Fathers that drew me to this show: a new project by Andy Falco and Chris Pandolfi of The Infamous Stringdusters.
With a set containing new arrangements of traditional tunes, original songs and instrumentals, a couple of covers and just a sprinkling of Stringduster sound, Falco’s guitar and Pandolfi’s banjo duets gave us a more living room style of performance than you get at the festival-like Stringdusters shows. Playing seated in center stage facilitated the interaction between the bluegrass jamming veterans as they started off with a vamp into “Angelina Baker”. Falco set the bass with a dropped D tuning while Pandolfi built the tune, enticing the crowd away from the bar and towards the stage. Soon the two were trading breaks back and forth, building energy and improvisations into the classic fiddle tune. They maintained that energy as they shifted rhythms to the highly danceable original instrumental “High Country Funk”. I hope you all get to hear this infectiously funky jam some day!
Stringdusters fans who have long asked for Andy Falco to sing some blues will get their reward at a Founding Fathers show. For the first of three songs for the evening, he reached into the catalog of Grateful Dead acoustic favorites with “Rosalee McFall”. Chris Pandolfi the led the next tune with Bela Fleck’s “The Open Road”, where the two once again played a game of musical badmitton, passing the breaks while always maintaining a solid groove.
Falco returned to the drop D tuning while they riffed on another classic fiddle tune “Whiskey Before Breakfast”, starting deconstructed and ending with lightning fast breaks. Giving us each one track off of their solo records, Andy Falco sang his original composition, “Sentenced to Live With The Blues”, augmented by an extra jam that I am glad to be able to share with you in the video. Following that was “Big Bend”, an instrumental off Chris Pandolfi’s album Looking Glass, that rolls along like a mountain landscape, not too fast and with room to move.
Shifting gears, the duo showed the depth of their bluegrass roots with a tribute to banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs, where Pandolfi led several of Scruggs banjo tunes that alas I cannot name. The only Infamous Stringdusters material of the evening was an instrumental jam riffing on “No More To Leave You Behind”, and the final song of the cited Tim O’Brien’s ballad “Pretty Fair Maid”, starting low and serenely and ending in joyous crescendo as the tale unfolded. With big smiles, the Pandolfi and Falco closed their inaugural set with the classic bluegrass jam tune “Salt Creek”.
The Founding Fathers gave a great performance for any music fan and not just for the Stringduster fanatics such as yours truly. The two showed obvious joy in playing together, but while they communicated with each other through their instruments they also maintained a connection with the audience throughout the set. The next chance you’ll have to see The Founding Fathers will be on July 28 in Baltimore, MD at the 8 x 10 Club opening for The Devil Makes Three.
As I mentioned in the beginning, don’t let the level of detail I’ve given to the Founding Fathers take away from the Hackensaw Boys, who followed up with a raucous set that had the crowd dancing and hollering. With all six cylinders firing at full speed, the Hackensaws delivered the backwoods party-time set they are known for with favorite tunes like “Cannonball”, “Miner”, “Sweet Petunia”, “Dance Around”, “Nashville”, “The Parking Lot Song” and “We Are Many”. With the success of bands like Old Crow Medicine Show and Trampled By Turtles, I can’t help but think that the long running Hackensaw Boys should be bigger on the festival circuit, and I hope their upcoming appearance at the All Good Festival will help propel them down that road.