“Celebration, Devastation, and Redemption” - Part Two
15 May 2015 - Dominion River Rock - Richmond, VA
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Setlist: Black Muddy River, Don't Lie, Wings for Wheels, Hit Parade of Love, Clinch Mountain Backstep, Burn Them, Lose My Way, The Four, Windshield, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Yeah Yeah, I’d Probably Kill You, Worried About the Weather, The Thrill Is Gone, Leap Year, Encore - Demons > Midnight Moonlight > Demons, Atlantic City
Redemption. Catharsis. Vindication. Healing. All words I would use to describe the Greensky show I saw the day after Dear Jerry. And after the tragic schedule cuts from that massive tribute show, GSBG was very much in need of all of these notions. Good thing the boys brought their A-game through the flames and unleashed a monster of a free show then, huh? As we all gathered amidst the mud-covered participants of the Dominion River Rock festival weaving our way through the athletic and those not-so-inclined to bluegrass, the band took the stage around sunset, extreme bicyclists tackling a series of jumps and half-pipes in the background. It was definitely amusing seeing “our” people gathered en masse and mixed in with the River Rock folks — talk about two vastly different worlds coming together. Made for a good giggle a time or two. But enough of all that, there is music to discuss!!
The larger questions on many minds in the crowd revolved around the band’s snubbing the night before at the Dear Jerry monster tribute up at Merriweather Post and how they would recover in a musical and performance fashion from such an emotional let-down. Would they play “Eyes of the World”? Would they even play any Dead or Jerry at all?? Would they be shelving all that repertoire for an indefinite period? Well, all said questions were summarily answered as the first notes and chords of “Black Muddy River” rang out like a soft, but simmering clarion call and the crowd began to cheer madly in support of this intrepid band of musicians whose musical convalescence was instantly on display that evening for all to see. Paul Hoffman’s voice was a welcome friend emanating from the speakers, something many of us present had been aching to hear since the now infamous issues of the night before. A baller-ass way to come out swinging in my opinion, just owning the song and owning the experience that brought them to that moment. It was clear from that point that something special was afoot there along the James River in Richmond. And it was only just getting started. The little look of thanks and a couple of mouthed friendly words from my friend Mike Devol told me all I needed to know to prepare for the remainder of this show: get ready to be right here and watch us work this all out. Fair enough — let’s do this. After a tease-laden jam, “Black Muddy” gave way to the unmistakable dobro intro notes of “Don’t Lie” and, while musically solid, to me there was something occurring up on stage that was both beyond all of us but intrinsically tied to each of us at the same time. I sensed a great deal of anger from some members of the band, shock from others, sadness from yet others. And these emotions swirled from face to face, instrument to instrument, voice to voice throughout show as the clear aftermath of Dear Jerry came falling towards us. I have never in my life witnessed a band collectively work through a huge emotional ordeal live through music before. The jams were so raw and dirty and rowdy and organic. And the combined catharsis felt in palpable ways as the band healed itself through its craft and passion was extremely moving. It was an intense and intimate experience to say the very least. An “Eyes of the World” tease and a rather long and tasty, tight jam later found us slowing to the soulful sound of Bruzza and “Wings for Wheels”. It was good to hear a few jokes from the band, too, like Paul joking that Dave Schools was coming out to join them since he’s from Richmond. (He didn’t.) Phoff also remarked how good it felt to be playing that night — another good sign of assuaging Dear Jerry woes. Dave kept the mic for a brisk “Hit Parade of Love” and a little fast pickin’ for the Dominion River Rock crowd. “Clinch Mountain Backstep” kept us in this jumping little grass vein for a stretch with some expectedly excellent soloing from the members of the band. Then it was time for some new album love: “Burn Them” seemed like an apropos and pointed inclusion in the setlist. And we all really loved it — great version. Quick and precise and a great leading counterpoint to the sweet and serene “Lose My Way” to follow, which seemed slightly beset by some of the musical angst so present, but each subsequent song, each new tune was bringing the boys that much closer back to center. During the big and bountiful middle jam of “Lose” I looked around the crowd to see all the the River Rock event folks enjoying some insanely good newgrass, dancing and bopping their heads along — it was a good feeling seeing the power of this music on folks who are different from those I am usually used to seeing in such places. “The Four” came next followed by “Windshield”, two of my favorite Hoffman songs. And the band spanked them both summarily. It was really getting apparent by this time in the show that each new song was adding to the vitality of the band and the vehemence of their playing. I really cannot do justice to the feeling of the place as the show pushed towards its close, by then the band and the audience were all linked together in this thing. It was so intense. The subsequent Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was a little gift from Bruzza evoking feelings and sentiments of Jerry as well, and feelings of getting past Dear Jerry. Next a light-hearted and improvised reggae-esque “Yeah Yeah” song was made up on the spot by Paul with the band supporting which then led to “I’d Probably Kill You”. Jumping the energy back up Bruzza stayed at the mic for the introspective “Worried About the Weather”, another great selection for this evening of all evenings, especially the huge, nasty, brazen, dirty jam smack in the middle of the song. A chill instrument intro segued quickly into an homage to the recently late but always great B.B. King: “The Thrill Is Gone”. Phoff and the lads did a truly honorable job with their rendition. I am sure Mr. King was proud. The final song of this pretty epic almost two-hour one set show was “Leap Year” which they hammered home in perfect fashion. This was a super funky version during which it was plain to see that this band was not the same that started the show earlier that evening. These men had rediscovered the joy and fun in their passion and they were sharing it so freely and profoundly with the rest of us. It was a real treat and privilege to witness. But they weren’t done…not by a long shot! Encore time brought us a really great “Demons” into “Midnight Moonlight” and then back into “Demons” — jam central left and right. Excellence. But they still weren’t done! To cap the evening off completely, the fellas gave us their rendition of “Atlantic City”, a personal favorite of mine and a great way to bring this musical journey to a close.
And so, redeemed and healed by their own hands and voices, the members of Greensky Bluegrass thanked us all, made their acknowledgments, grabbed their instruments, and left the stage, different for the experience, better for it, like the rest of us. The power of music to celebrate, devastate, redeem…and heal. This is why we do this.
This is why we do this.