Greensky Bluegrass came all the way from Kalamazoo to help us celebrate the second weekend of Jazz Fest this year. Saturday, May 6th, the 5-piece party of pluckers were in town with Joshua Davis and they hit up the House of Blues after the festival day. Tourists and festival-goers congested the streets of downtown, and many seemed to be gathered outside the House of Blues in hopes of seeing some more live music. Slowly, but surely, they all ambled their way inside and by the time it was Greensky’s turn to take the stage, the venue had been filled to the brim.
Greensky Bluegrass is known as a “non-traditional” bluegrass band, and has been described as the most “rock-and-roll” of the bluegrass groups out there. This is because they have an habit of improvising live and they employ a flashy light show like jam bands so often do. Like many bluegrass bands, they have no drummer, and utilize classic instruments such as acoustic guitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin, and double bass. The mandolin player, Paul Hoffman, sings lead more often than the others, but they all tend to sing and address the crowd.
They began at about 10:30pm after Joshua Davis and started the set with “Miss September.” After a few starting songs, they welcomed Josh Davis back onto the stage to sing with them and play electric guitar. He joined for “Walking the Dog” and “Last Winter in the Copper Country.” Their first set closed with a dedication to Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith. They played the very appropriate “One More Saturday Night” by Bob Weir, which is surely how some attendees were feeling after having braved Jazz Fest for two weeks, now. When they came out for the second set, they started with “Bring Out Your Dead,” but then for some reason, all the sound from the stage was silenced. Their mics stopped working, and their amps were not being amplified. Unable to fix the problem, the band channeled their grass roots and played “Hit Parade of Love” completely acoustic, without any volume. “We might be rock and roll, but don’t ever forget we can stand on the edge of the stage and play some bluegrass music,” says dobro player Anders Beck when the mics and PA system suddenly returned.
It seemed that during the second set is when they really brought out their creativity and claimed their reputation for heavy hitting improv. Round two really saw them pick up the jams, for the first time of the night fusing one song into another with “Broke Mountain Breakdown” into “Ain’t No Bread in the Breadbox.” Then, they also played “The Four” into “Run or Die.” Perhaps they decided to go easy with the initial set, but by the end of the night, the sound and energy of the band finally matched the dazzling lightshow behind them. At the very least, Greensky is more than meets the eye. The quintet took the seasoned Jazz Festians on a musical journey with their multi-genre soundscapes and non-traditional instrument effects, like the loaded pedal board Beck applies to his Dobro, and gave them a perfectly hypnotizing nightcap to finish off a long day of music. Their final track was “Light Up or Leave Me Alone,” and they followed with a three-song encore of “Past My Prime,” “Atlantic City,” and a reprise of “Broke Mountain Breakdown.”