One of the last times bluegrass quintet The Infamous Stringdusters came to Boise, the band members hauled large rafts to Barber Park on the Boise River, strapped on some rented lifejackets and set off paddling down the most floated stretch of river in Idaho.
Along the way—with the help of Idaho Rivers United, Idaho River Sports, the Winter Wildlands Alliance and a handful of volunteers—the Nashville-based band spent the day in Boise cleaning up trash along the river as part of its summer 2013 American Rivers Tour.
By the end of the four-hour float, the group had filled 20 trash bags with plastic and glass bottles, beer cans, shoes, sunglasses, cigarette butts, tennis balls, rubber gloves, soggy articles of clothing, shredded rafts, cardboard boxes, broken paddles and more.
After spending the afternoon on the Boise River, the Stringdusters performed at the Knitting Factory, where the band will play again on Saturday, Feb. 13.
"We were trying to raise awareness of our American rivers and what a difference picking up a little trash will make," said fiddle player Jeremy Garrett. "It seems like common sense, but we were out there to set a good example. I was very proud to be part of it."
Garrett has a special place in his heart for the Boise River because he grew up in Caldwell. He learned to ski at Bogus Basin, met his high-school sweetheart-now-wife at Caldwell High School, and attended more than one Weiser Fiddle Festival. His love for the fiddle began at 3 years old, when his bluegrass-playing dad taught him to play the violin by ear. Garrett's father would hum a tune and Garrett would play along on his fiddle. He joined the high school orchestra, went to college in Texas for music and came back to Idaho to play in a bluegrass band with his dad for eight years.
Around 2005, Garrett left for Nashville, where he met the friends who would eventually make up The Infamous Stringdusters: Andy Hall on Dobro, Andy Falco on guitar, Travis Book on double bass and Chris Pandolfi on banjo.
"Eventually, we all wanted to live somewhere else," Garrett said. "Two guys live in Denver, one guy in North Carolina, one guy in Long Island. My wife and I sold our house and bought an RV, and we live in that."
Garrett's "RV" is not the typical golden-brown Fleetwood Bounder. It's a 34-foot International Truck chassis with a cab that looks like a semi hauler.
"It's super classy," Garrett said. "It makes living in an RV pretty mellow. We figured if we sell our house, we want to be comfortable. We have our travel partner, Bonnie. She's the sweetest cat you'll meet."
Garrett has drawn inspiration from his time on the road. He started a solo project and created The RV Sessions, an album recorded entirely in the RV. He writes songs about traveling across the country and visiting national parks. Soon, he'll point his RV north and head to Boise to reunite with the rest of his band. Boise is only the fourth stop in the Stringdusters' Ladies and Gentleman tour, behind their sixth studio album, Ladies and Gentlemen (Compass Records) released Feb. 5.
Despite scattering across the country, the band only needs a quick run-through of its material during soundcheck. Garrett said they occasionally rent a cabin and get together for a few days on "retreat" to write new material.
The idea for the new album came about on one such recent retreat. Besides the core Stringduster group, the record also includes the voices of several female singers, including Joan Osborne, Sara Watkins, Joss Stone, Lee Ann Womack, Celia Woodsmith and Jennifer Hartswick. Some of them will join the Stringdusters as they tour through the end of June.
"We have a mixture of that throwback country style alongside a younger sound more on the forefront of bluegrass," Garrett said. "[Putting the album together] was a feat, I will tell you. Sometimes we had to record the track but the singer couldn't be there, so she'd have to record her part of it later and edit it in."
Garrett said he's excited to push the edge of his genre. The Infamous Stringdusters go so far as to describe themselves on their website as the "future of bluegrass."
"Some people in bluegrass get real serious about trying to preserve a sound. It becomes more of a preservation society, instead of becoming something new. Then it dies," Garrett said. "A lot of us have paid our dues in the bluegrass music world. We've run the gamut of tradition. Now we are bringing in a contemporary sound, something new and artistic. I think that's the future of it."
Garrett looks forward to returning to Boise and showing off his new material to family and friends.
"I can't wait to get out to Boise again. It's kind of like my hometown," he said. "If there's enough time, maybe I could sneak up there to Bogus. I love that mountain. I haven't been back there in a long time."