Ambassador Spotlight: Chris Pandolfi
Today, we're thrilled to introduce Wise River Ambassador, Chris Pandolfi!
Banjo extraordinaire. Producer. Grammy Winner. Conservationist. Outdoorsman. Today, we're thrilled to introduce Chris Pandolfi (@tradplus) as a Wise River brand ambassador. When he's not lighting up the stage in front of a sold out crowd with his band, the Infamous Stringdusters, you can find "Panda" chasing game fish all over the eastern hemisphere with a fly rod in hand. Chris embodies everything that Wise River stands for, which is further exemplified by his work in helping to restore anadromous fish in the Pacific Northwest. As one of the pre-eminent names on the Bluegrass scene, also be sure to check to out Chris' podcast, Inside The Musician's Brain, where he discusses experiences with the most talented strings musicians you'll find anywhere. Welcome aboard, Chris!
We connected with Chris to discuss Wise River, his outdoor experiences, conservation, and life on the road. Check it out below!
Nick: What are some things that you've come to love about Wise River gear?
Chris: Wise River makes gear that is really functional and looks great at the same time--no sacrifices! It's hard to find that combination, but it's really key if you have an active lifestyle that includes work and play. Of course I also love the sustainability element of this gear too. It's more important than ever to reduce our impact on the environment, and teaming up with brands that value that mission is a great way to do that.
Nick: That’s what we aim for in each of the pieces we create! Which products have you been digging?
Chris: I really dig the Sage Shirt Jacket. It's warm and comfortable but it looks really sharp as well. We play a lot of outdoor shows, and it can get chilly up there on stage depending on the season. The Sage is the perfect product for those occasions. But I don't just wear it on stage. It's become a go-to all around jacket when the temps are a little cooler. I also love the South Fork Sun Hoody. It's perfect for long days on the river, keeping you cool and protected from the sun. The material is amazing. It looks great and gives you the perfect amount of stretch for a really active day.
Nick: Awesome to hear, the South Fork has accompanied me on all my backcountry endeavors this Summer and I’ve been loving it. What have been your go to activities in the gear?
Chris: I wear Wise River gear on stage, on the river, out on the town, out for a hike, or just about anywhere I go! It's versatile, and that's such a huge plus.
Nick: Wise River's mission is rooted in supporting organizations focused on conservation. Can you tell us about some of your conservation work?
Chris: I've been an avid fisherman since I was really young. My dad got me into it, and there was always a strong component of conservation involved. It started really simple, using barbless hooks and taking care of the fish and their environment. When I went off to college, I was an environmental studies major, and got a much clearer look at some of the environmental challenges we are facing these days. But my career path lead me to music, and that degree sat on the shelf for years, though it was always something that was important to me. Fast forward a few years, and the Stringdusters started to gain a much bigger following. Using that platform to try and affect some change in the world, set a good example, and introduce our fans to different issues/conservation groups we think are important has been a rewarding new focus for me in recent years. One issue that I'm really passionate about is protecting native steelhead and salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest. I've done some informal work with a great group called the Wild Steelhead Coalition, an amazing organization that has done a lot of work to that end. I'm trying to help them get the word out, and to turn our fans on to the reality that we can all make a difference if we lend our voice/energy to groups like these.
Nick: That’s awesome. As anglers I definitely believe it’s our responsibility to protect the resources we care about, and it’s incredible to see you use your platform to do so. Are there any organizations we should be paying attention to? If so, how can we support them?
Chris: I mentioned Wild Steelhead Coalition, and they are definitely worth checking out. I've also been involved with Trout Unlimited for years. TU is a great organization that is involved with protecting streams and rivers far and wide so that native fish populations will be around for years to come. Becoming a TU member is the easiest way to back their cause, but you can also get involved with your local chapter to connect with other conservation-minded people/ fishermen in your area and the efforts they are undertaking. There's an amazing success story just a few minutes down the road from me in Golden, CO, where they brought Clear Creek back to life. Mining efforts, which were abundant in this part of the country, polluted Clear Creek heavily in the past. But now it is a thriving fishery and recreation opportunity that draws many people to Golden. I've caught some great trout in that stream! It's proof that organizations like TU are doing invaluable work that will benefit generations of people to come.
Nick: It’s awesome to read about a local success story, and I know TU has a ton of them- what a great organization! Shifting gears, You're gearing up for a big tour, what does it mean to you to be back out on the road with your 'duster brothers?
Chris: This last year and a half has been so challenging and unpredictable, for everyone. The music industry was hit especially hard, and we went almost a year without playing a single show, after 15 years of playing roughly 100 shows per year. Nobody ever dreamed that such a thing could happen, and the perspective we've all gained is profound. It feels amazing to be back out there, making music with my brothers, and bringing joy to people across the country. I don't think I will ever take a minute on stage for granted ever again. We are so lucky to get to do what we do, and the people need music now more than ever before.
Nick: So awesome to hear that. I remember watching a bunch of your Instagram livestreams with the band, and it was so cool to see you guys sharing your talents with your fans directly. In those crazy times, it definitely helped heal the stress of what was going on in the world. What are some of your favorite cities to play in? favorite venues?
Chris: I love a lot of different places for different reasons. One of the great silver linings of being gone so much is the ability to see all these different cities/places, experience their people, and get a sense of what this country is all about. I love going to San Francisco and New York, and experiencing the energy of those amazing cities before we hit the stage. I love visiting places where we can also recreate outside, whether it's a quick hike or a full on outdoor mission. And of course I never go anywhere without my 4 piece, 6 weight rod! I've had some amazing fishing experiences on the road that connect me with amazing local anglers and their unique home waters. A few years back we were playing Durango, in Southwest Colorado, and I had an amazing morning on the Animas River with my buddy Jimmy Largent on the morning of the show. I landed the biggest trout I ever caught on a fly rod that day--a 10 lb brown on a 7 wt rod, fishing a big Pat's Rubberlegs (we call that fly a 'pickle' out here)! It was unreal! We actually had an event with the local TU chapter in town that day, as they were leading restoration efforts after the Gold King mine spill on the Animas a few weeks prior. I showed up very stoked to that event and then rode that energy into the show. It was an unforgettable fish and an unforgettable day!
Nick: That’s incredible. I’m sure life on the road can be a grind but it’s got to be pretty cool to see different parts of the country so regularly. We’d love to sit here and chat with you all day, but I know you’ve got a lot going on and gearing up to get back on tour. Which brings us to our last question, who are some other bands that you're enjoying right now?
Chris: I love Oliver Wood's new solo album, 'Always Smilin.' Oliver is one third of one of my favorite bands, The Wood Brothers. I had him as a guest on my podcast, Inside the Musician's Brain, which gave me an excuse to dive deep into his new music, which is phenomenal. I've been listening to a lot of Tony Rice over the past few months, after we lost Tony this past year. His music is just legendary, and his catalogue is so expansive. For something different, I love Tycho, who is more of an ambient/electronic artist. His music is unique and beautiful, and great for lots of different
Nick: Thanks for the time and sharing a little insight into your world, Chris! We’re thrilled to have you on board!