Greensky Bluegrass bring their tour to Faultline North on Wednesday, November 11th at 8pm to serenade an eager crowd with their brand of rock ‘n’ roll bluegrass. Tickets are $25 and available now through Cactus Records and Vootie.com.
“There’s this great duality to our band,” reflects Greensky mandolinist, vocalist, and songwriter Paul Hoffman. “We’re existing in a few different places at once: we’re a bluegrass band and a rock band, we’re song-driven and interested in extended improvisation.” Dobro player Anders Beck adds, “We play acoustic instruments, but we put on a rock’n’roll show. We play in bigger clubs and theaters, there’s a killer light show, and we’re as loud as your favorite rock band. It’s not easy to make five acoustic instruments sound like this–it’s something we’ve spent years working on.”
From these seemingly irreconcilable elements, the five members of Greensky Bluegrass have forged a defiant, powerful sound that, while rooted in classic stringband Americana, extends outwards with a fearless, exploratory zeal. The tension and release between these components–tradition and innovation, prearranged songs and improvisation, acoustic tones and electric volume–is what makes them so thrillingly dynamic, in concert and on record. “In theory,” Hoffman explains, “greensky is the complete opposite of bluegrass. So, by definition, we are contrasting everything that isn’t bluegrass with everything that is.” From their unlikely base of Kalamazoo, Michigan (home of the original Gibson Mandolin-Guitar factory), Greensky–which also includes banjoist Michael Arlen Bont and bassist Michael Devol–arrived at their unique take on the bluegrass tradition by working from the outside inward. “I found bluegrass through the back door,” Beck says, “through the Jerry Garcia route. That’s how I got to listening to Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs. It’s really interesting how many people in our generation got into acoustic music through that channel.” Approaching their instruments from an open-ended, rock perspective gave them the freedom to create their own rules. “We were always coming at bluegrass backwards,” Hoffman says. “We were better musicians than we were bluegrass musicians. I mean, I didn’t buy a mandolin until I was 18. Dave didn’t start playing acoustic guitar until he was 18. Bont got a banjo when he was 20. We discovered that, when it came to learning these instruments, we preferred to do so by improvising and writing our own songs, instead playing standard material and fiddle tunes.”
By playing up to 175 shows a year, mostly in rock clubs and more open-minded festivals like Telluride, Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Greensky Bluegrass became a word-of-mouth underground sensation, cultivating a devoted legion of fans entranced both by the band’s improvisational acumen and the quality of their songwriting. Then and now, despite their wide-ranging musical interests, Greensky continues to work within the structure of a classic five-man stringband. “The cool thing about a bluegrass band or, really, any drummerless band,” Hoffman explains, “is that it’s like acoustic chamber music–challenging, exciting, and fun to play.” “While there are potential limitations because of our instrumentation,” Beck adds, “a really big part of what is Greensky Bluegrass is about is to essentially ignore those limitations.”
With the release of their first nationally distributed album and a busy touring season ahead of them, Greensky Bluegrass are facing a new level of exposure. It’s a challenge they are up to, that they embrace. As their music and their audience has grown, so have they, and their sites are set ever-higher. “When we were doing our first shows and making those early records,” Hoffman concludes, “it was stressful because we wanted to hit the right notes. We just wanted it to be good enough. But now, we want it to be great.” For more information on the band, visit greenskybluegrass.com and don’t forget to get your tickets early for this one-night-only show!