The Infamous Stringdusters made another stop in Madison at the Majestic this past Friday with guests Horseshoes and Hand Grenades.
Their performance continued a circuit of bluegrass bands touring regularly through Madison, with the most recognizable being Yonder Mountain String Band. Just last year, The Infamous Stringdusters opened for Yonder and headlined a show shortly after. Now, they were back as veteran headliners.
Within this circuit is a sort of food chain, and Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is working their way up, much like the Stringdusters did in years past. For Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, opening for the Stringdusters was another step on the way, but they aren’t completely new to the scene. In addition to opening for YMSB this year, they also placed third.
And there is ample justification for Horseshoes’ success. In their 45 minute set, they expertly engaged the crowd and revved them up for the headlining act. Huddled around a single microphone, members leaned in for a solo and out when they needed to balance the sound. Each member wore a smile and clearly had a great time, and the crowd definitely felt the same way.
Considering the pair of bluegrass bands were competing with the Halloween festivities leading up to Freakfest, the turnout was impressive. Standing room at the Majestic wasn’t packed shoulder-to-shoulder, but there was still a healthy crowd.
The audience at a bluegrass shows always guarantee a good time. As usual, ages ranged from 15 to 70, and many stood close to the stage, swinging and dancing around.
Smaller venues like the Majestic, especially with its worn feel, are perfect for bluegrass shows. It’s always fun to watch some of the stiffer members of the crowd loosen up with each progressive song. By the end of the night, most people in the crowd danced wholeheartedly.
The Stringdusters performed much in the way their concert-going regulars have come to expect. The group puts on a show and loves to improvise on every piece they play. With each album and tour, it is obvious how quickly their musical ability and scope has expanded, and it makes going to their shows more than worth the cost of the ticket again and again.
There is, however, another aspect to the bluegrass band food chain mentioned before. While a group like Yonder, or now the Stringdusters, still plays with energetic enthusiasm, each successive show seems to wear them down a little more. The enthusiasm and passion is always there, but the physical energy noticeably wanes over the years.
This makes the combination of the opener and the headliner the perfect one-two punch. With Horseshoe and Hand Grenades, the audience witnessed an up-and-coming band clearly on their way to bigger things. The band gave it their all with enthusiasm on their sleeves, happy to be playing with a bigger name in the world of bluegrass. What’s more, the group hails from Stevens Point, Wis., and, of course, it’s always great to see fairly local talent playing in familiar territory.
While the Stringdusters provided a polished, musically complex performance, they lacked a raw energy. But that energy was made up for in skill and experience. Continuing success is always pleasure to witness and seeing another younger group starting down the same path is equally great. Alone, either performance would have made for a good show, but together, they made for a great night.