Stringdusters’ Travis Book Talks Phish, Festivals, and Road Struggles in Grateful Music Interview

Published on March 5, 2020

The Future Is Now is an aptly named cross-country tour by one of the most progressive genre bending in the bluegrass world- the Infamous Stringdusters. The quintet expertly blends bluegrass with impressive improvisation, fun covers from the likes of Phish and the Grateful Dead, and soulful lyrics and vocal melodies.

Travis Book (bass) took the time to talk to Grateful Music about Phish, live concert releases, an upcoming shindig at Kentucky’s Terrapin Hills Farm in April, and more:

Grateful Music was there for your Valentine’s Day Cincinnati show– you mentioned you were across the river from the site of your Live from Covington album release. What specifically was clicking that night that led to the live release?

Travis Book: It was clear the moment we walked on stage that the audience that night was potentially highly reactive; they were already really stoked and expecting something great. That gave us a lot of space to expand into and to rise to the occasion.

Did you walk off stage and say “This was the one?”

Travis Book: I don’t know if we knew when we walked off stage, but it didn’t take more than a few hours or a few days for us to start discussing it. The process was really similar for our last recording (and the first of this series) Live from Telluride in that there was a optimal balance of energy, invention, and execution and we thought it was a good show to point people toward.

The Future is Now tour had plenty of fun and unorthodox covers. What’s the process for picking these out? Are these hashed out before the tour or practiced on the fly?

Travis Book: Sometimes a guy will pitch a cover toward a sympathetic bandmate who’s a fan or who he knows is familiar with the cover and the context in which to play it. Sometimes the song is relevant to the times, for example For What It’s Worth we covered on the night of the inauguration. It was Falco’s idea, and it’s a staightforward enough tune everyone was familiar with so it was easy to arrange and run at soundcheck and play that night. What’s Going On arrived in a similar fashion the morning before a D.C. show. Other songs take a little more time, maybe require a little more arrangement/attention or convincing of bandmates. Still other covers start out as teases or grooves that pop up in a jam. Several of our Dead covers came up this way as well as Brick in the Wall and Manic Depression.  

Dead and Phish covers seem to be staples of your set lists.

Travis Book: Falco came up on the Dead, saw a bunch of shows when he was young, his brother would take him. Hall also saw a good amount of Dead. Pandolfi has seen a lot of Phish. He did summer tour one year, slinging grilled cheeses. (I’m not making this up). I’ve listened to both bands extensively, know a lot of the music, huge fan. We did GD50 (Fare Thee Well) as a band, couldn’t miss that, and we’ve done a couple band field trips to see Phish… I think we’ve learned a lot from those bands, the Dead especially.

The next time you’re in Kentucky is the Cabin Fever Reliever on Terrapin Hills Farm (April 16-19). The lineup is all jamgrass and made up of you and a bunch of your friends and cohorts like Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Lil’ Smokies, and many more. Just how much fun will this pickin’ party be?

Travis Book: Very. Very very. Bluegrass is really unique in that the fanbase covers a relatively large demographic politically and socio-economically. Because it’s such a hands-on music, (many many fans play it) with a shared lexicon and various subcultures, it’s easy to find yourself hanging with people you normally would not. And they tend to be pretty cool people, generally laid back, looking for a good time. If you find yourself in a field or the woods with these kinda people and you got nothing to do but pick, eat, drink, talk, party, and listen to music for a long weekend, you’re going to get a communal or familial feeling. Good people make for good hangs.

These festivals tend to provide plenty of opportunities for spur-of-the-moment collaborations that can take a group somewhere previously unexplored musically.

Travis Book: Yes, it wasn’t spur of the moment, but our collab last summer with Oteil Burbridge on a Keller Williams Grateful Grass set was new territory, especially for me. Two basses, both filling different roles, covering timeless music in a beautiful place with Keller at the helm… it was new territory and there was a lot of joy onstage.

This summer has you criss-crossing the country playing festivals. With mental health being, unfortunately, a big part of the jam world conversation over the last couple years, what do you do to keep yourself grounded while hitting the tour gauntlet?

Travis Book:I don’t always. I’ve had some really rough patches this winter and it’s a total drag. Total. Drag. But mental health, the state of your mind, isn’t really dependent on your place or your circumstances; it’s all inside of you. The stories your mind tells you about what’s happening largely shape your experience if you pay your mind much attention, so I try to do the same things I do while traveling as I do while I’m at home. I keep routine, I get lots of sleep, I exercise, do yoga, meditate, eat good food, breathe, drink water, stay calm, practice gratitude, ask for help, forgive myself and those around me, keep the music sacred, pour my energy into the task at hand, try to distance myself from the inner monologue, and allow it all to unfold without getting too attached to the unfolding.

Do you get the chance to learn fromyour mentors about how to survive road life?

Travis Book: Sadly, there are a lot of really good examples of what not to do and I’ve had a lot of friends struggle and a lot of them not make it. I’ve learned much from them. But I’ve also been inspired by the blog posts of Danny Barnes and observing my heroes and their approach to the game. Sam Bush is a hoss and obviously still has the right attitude and takes good care of himself. 

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