Friday Night in Raleigh with Greensky Bluegrass
On a rainy Friday night in Raleigh, Greensky Bluegrass brought some heat to a nondescript, industrial looking space known as The Ritz. While their recordings are primarily acoustic affairs focusing on well-crafted songs, at their gigs, guitarist Dave Bruzza, mandolinist Paul Hoffman, banjo player Michael Arlen Bont, bassist Mike Devol, and dobroist Anders Beck create extended soundscapes and jams that can sometimes go on for as long as 30 minutes, often veering into and out of multiple songs. At times the musicians even add effects to their instruments to bring additional textures into the jams.
Following an opening set by Michigan singer-songwriter Josh Davis, who was joined on The Faces “Oh La La” by Devol on bass and vocals, Greensky took the stage to a full house. They opened the show with “Burn Them” and “Room Without A Roof,” both from their 2016 release Shouted, Written Down, & Quoted. Following “Better Off” we were treated to our first extended jam of the night with “Train Junky.” At the end of the first set, following the instrumental “33443” a good portion of the crowd quickly picked up on the familiar riff that starts off the Grateful Dead’s “Cassidy.” I couldn’t help but think about how Jerry Garcia brought his love of bluegrass to The Dead, and 50 years later it only seems logical that the Dead would have ended up influencing later generations of acoustic bluegrass musicians.
After a set-break, the boys returned to the stage with “Past My Prime” and the uptempo “Radio Blues.” Hoffman then took a moment to recall Greensky’s last visit to the area as part of the IBMA’s World of Bluegrass. The stage in the amphitheater downtown faces what is known as the “shimmer wall” which Hoffman said is his favorite wall in the country and dedicated “Working On A Building” to it. Yep, he (jokingly) dedicated a song to a wall, but then again, if you’ve seen it you’ll understand. After closing out with a 20 minute take on “Don’t Lie,” the band returned with Davis to encore with Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” A nice way to cool us down before we had to head back out into the real world.
Between the extended jams and use of effects on acoustic instruments, I’m sure there are plenty of purists out there who may think otherwise, but at heart, Greensky Bluegrass definitely is a bluegrass band. These guys can pick traditional styles with the best of them, but music has to keep moving forward and cross-pollinate with different ideas, otherwise it just becomes a museum piece. A big part of what makes this all work is soundman Greg Burns, who effectively mixes the acoustic instruments at rock band volumes and seamlessly blends the acoustic and electric sounds. Add in the skills of lighting designer Andrew Lincoln and you’ve got the complete package for a true headlining act. Greensky Bluegrass has a full schedule of shows throughout the year hitting a number of major festivals, theaters and clubs around the country. In the true jam-band sense it’s a different show every night, but one constant is you’ll be treated to a satisfying mix of down-home pickin’ and exploratory jams, along with a familiar cover or two. All in all, they always deliver a really good time.