As the Greensky shows at the Ogden approached, my anticipation began to build. This was my first time seeing them play in Colorado, so it was slated to be a great two-night run from my favorite touring “newgrass” or bluegrass “fusion” bands. Greensky loves Colorado, and especially the wild ruckus of Denver, which always provides a high-energy foot-stompin’ crowd. The musicianship and delivery of what we know and love about Greensky Bluegrass was proportioned generously both nights, paving the way for great song selection, collaborations, and a fun stage presence.
The first song “Just Listening” off their newest album entitled If Sorrow Swims set the tone for the joy-filled evening. The song’s laid-back, grassy instrumentation is accompanied by lyrics reminiscent of a dedicated touring band, a concept that Greensky is no stranger to. It’s an incredible feat to keep the momentum climbing, while continuing to land larger and larger venues across the US. Amidst their success, they still maintain hometown shows in and around Kalamazoo, MI. Keeping their integrity in that respect is amazing to see!
The next song “Gumboots” (Paul Simon cover) made for a great transition, especially as sung by mandolinist Paul Hoffman. Then they came steadily rippling into “Eat My Dust”, a fantastic upbeat bluegrass original composed by lead guitarist Dave Bruzza. It was followed up by a classic bluegrass gospel, “Working On A Building”. I love when bands cover this song because it really showcases the roots of the genre. The rest of the set consisted of “Into the Rafters” (from their third studio album Five Interstates), “All Four”, “Road To Nowhere”, “I’m Gone”, and “Kerosene”. I’m sure David Byrne never imagined hearing such a strong bluegrass interpretation of his “Road To Nowhere.” This set really set the standard for amazing composition and emotionalism, accompanied by beautiful lyrics. The way they all sprang forth into a frenzied fiery in this first set made me think, “How will they keep the bar this high in the next 3 sets to come?”
The second set started off with the genuine and soulful “In Control” leading into the complimentary opposite “Can’t Stop Now”, both of which always find a home within the rumpus of the crowd. They kept the momentum going with “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” (Little Miltons cover) back into “Can’t Stop Now”. “Middle Mountain Towns” came next, which paved a smooth path for an Anders Beck song from the Wayward Sons day called “Tarpology.” They also included PinkFloyd’s “One Slip within the framework, which ebbed and flowed nicely showing the stark but harmonious contrast between the two. One aspect that continues to amaze me about this band is how they take huge risks by weaving a multitude of decades within their own original new form of contemporary music.
Next was “The Four,” a soulful and upbeat song followed by the hometown throwback “Tied Down,” an upbeat and nostalgic grassy tune with a lyric change in the end saying, “…where I wanna be, with legal marijuana,” which drew a good cheer from the crowd. “Wings For Wheels” came next to slow it down and lead us into “Leap Year,” which provided a dark and wondrous mood. Last but not least came a cover of Norton Buffalo’s “Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox,” a tune that saw heavy rotation from the Jerry Garcia Band up until his death, but gladly revived and rejuvenated by this great band. I thoroughly enjoy what they can do with this song, particularly the slapstick percussion that Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck shared. They also threw in a “Don’t Lie” tease. With such an amazing and fun-filled performance, I was curious to see how the next night would be!
With an opener like “Just To Lie” on Saturday night, I knew we were in for another round of amazing bluegrass music. Then came the melancholic but sincere Hoffman song, “Windshield”, which is on their new album and currently on the Bluegrass charts. Next was the beautiful “Lose My Way”, followed by a fantastic Flat And Scruggs cover, “Bringing In The Georgia Mail”. The way Greensky honors and elevates tradition is really impressive, and is one of the many reasons I attend their shows. Another cover called “Last Winter In Copper Country” followed from fellow Michiganders Steppin’ In It (roots and folk band). It was a great transition into another song off Greensky’s new album, “Letter To Seymour,” which was played with great joy and vigor. It was followed by “New Rize Hill,” and then The Wood Brothers tune “Luckiest Man,” which was very enjoyable given Hoffman’s fantastic range of voice and solid mandolin licks. When I didn’t think the night could get any better, they brought out Chris Pandolfi (banjo) and Andy Hall (dobro) of the Infamous Stringdusters to play “Freeborn Man” written by K. Allison and M Lindsay and recorded by the “King of Bluegrass” Jimmy Martin. Having the dusters on stage provided a whole new dynamic, with great energy exchange especially between Michael Bont and Chris Pandolfi (banjos) and Anders Beck and Andy Hall (dobros). The dusters stayed up for one more song, Allman Brothers staple “Midnight Rider,” written by Gregg Allman and Robert Kim Payne. This song elevated the raw talent of these seven bluegrass performers, especially when joined by a sold out crowd who appreciates this southern staple. The Rocky Mountains bring together amazingly talented and friendly folks.
The final set of the two-night run began with a fun, potentially improvisational number labeled on archive.org as “For Sure Uh Huh.” The tune fit seamlessly into the next song “Demons,” an upbeat dark number. Past tour mates Fruition have embraced this song, as they did in a performance at Cervantes in Denver, and Greensky has covered Fruition’s “Mountain Annie,” written my their own Jay Cobb Anderson. Greensky then led into a fantastically dynamic version of “Don’t Lie” which reached above the 20-minute mark, even stopping for a huge uproar from the crowd, then going back to close it out. The improvisational elements were solid throughout- not many bands can hold an audience’s attention that long. This led into the slow-paced soulful “Forget Everything” and then “Worried About The Weather,” both tracks off the new album but played in opposite order, which was interesting in retrospect. They followed with another song off the new album, “Burn Them,” a lively contemporary bluegrass track. Next was the serious yet goofy “Jaywalking,” which made way for a screaming version of “Train Junkie.” This song got a little spooky and transformative, conjuring up images of train riders cruising around the American landscape, especially with the rip-roaring industrial resonating sounds produced from Beck’s dobro work and the frenetic fingerpicking of Bruzza. Another great song was next, “Broke Mountain Breakdown” which toward the end contained a tease of Phish’s “Bathtub Gin.” This sequenced seamlessly into their final song “After Midnight,” a J.J. Cale cover. With plenty of punches and cheers to honor the great performance, they came back out and encored with Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved.”
The encore was a perfect fit to the end of a fantastic sold-out two-night run at the Ogden Theater. It was a great example of the love they give to their music and fans around the country. The fans provide the musicians with job security, and they wouldn’t have fans if they didn’t love what they do. This is the beauty of symbiotic relationships, and many others share this same experience with live music. It was truly an honor to attend, photograph, and write this review of the fantastically evolving and groundbreaking band, Greensky Bluegrass.