23 July 2016 - Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Morrison, CO
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Band Members: Anders Beck - dobro, Michael Bont - banjo, Dave Bruzza - guitar, Mike Devol - upright bass, Paul Hoffman - mandolin
Picture it. You’re on the stage of Red Rocks, headlining for the first time. Good friends Leftover Salmon have just played a monster opening set in honor of your huge night. Thousands of your biggest fans are gathered in score upon score of the tiers of the historic amphitheatre. The skies have calmed from their earlier tempests making way for a perfect evening of weather just suited for live music. With so much going so right so far, how could you ever think of failure? How could you not solely be thinking of the utter domination you were getting ready to lay down with your bandmates in just a few scant minutes? How could things not go just supremely your way and then some? Times about a million. I can only surmise that this and countless other things were weaving their ways through the heads of our heroes of this tale, the gentlemen of Greensky Bluegrass that evening. An ever-impressive and ever-more-incredible powerhouse of musical originality and ensemble genius, it is impossible to even see remotely the same show twice from them. Songs may be similar from setlist to setlist, but the degree with which they increase their skill from gig to gig is immeasurable. And then, to be coming together under the banner of musical friendship alongside Leftover at Red Rocks of all places — what a crazy amazing way to do it. Quite impressive and it certainly made for an impressive evening of music. You’ve already read about Salmon’s baller set, now it’s time for a little Greensky in your life. What say you? Ready for this? Let’s do it!!
A strong and crowd-pleasing opener in the form of “Windshield” ushered us all into the night together, the familiar strains of Devol’s bass line jumping out into the ether above the stage as Hoffman’s vocal lines wove seamlessly into the mix. So many voices in the crowd were singing out to this one, as one, united in joy and purpose and pure merriment of the soul. And then, Anders’s dobro line floated in hauntingly reminding us of the intensity of this song as we all fell back into Paul’s vocals. Pure energy was coming from that stage, from those Michigan men who play that delicious string band music we all love so dearly. Really nice and chill ending jam, too. Sweet, if I dare say so. One helluva way to start things up!! They followed this up with “Just to Lie” from their album Five Interstates, increasing the tempo a bit and getting those dancing feet in the crowd a-moving. Another Paul lead, this one is a long-standing favorite of the GSBG catalogue, full of rich dobro lines from Beck and more of that iconic, Mike Devol bass-play, Cheshire-cat smile and all. He’s a good man, that one, and can lay down one extremely mean bass line, let there be no doubt!! Bruzza led the central jam on guitar to be joined by Hoffman on mandolin, things staying up beat but drifting to some more subdued places musically, leaning into the mellow intensity. Hoffman even threw in a few choice Fruition teases from “Labor of Love” — pretty freakin’ sweet. I mean, just perfect. So far, so great with this set…made me excited to think of the rest of it as well as the second! They took this directly into “The Four” to the instant delight of the crowd, Paul staying at the mic for the lead on this one as well. Again, so many voices upraised to join our favorite fellows on the stage. And when you fall in love with the four chord do you really need any more? Not according to the Phoff. Thanks to Dave Bruzza for his lovely guitar solo about 1:45 in which segued so wonderfully well back into the verse that followed. Phoffman wasn’t to be outdone, however, throwing down his own beautiful solo afterwards all to the undertone of Beck’s erstwhile dobro, that incredible instrument that it is. “Worried About the Weather” was up next on the docket for the set, with Bruzza up to the mic for lead vocals. Another danceable one no doubt, we all took advantage of this fact in the crowd. So many notes coming from Bont’s side of the stage weaving to my ears during this one, counterpointing those from the dobro on the opposite side. Adding to that the round-robin of solos between each member of the band and you got a whole heap of fantastic music. It was great to hear everyone in such fine voice tonight, too…they deserved to be at their very best for an occasion such as this. Then it was about this time I almost had a heart attack. For, as many of my loyal readers know, I am an ages-old fan of Pink Floyd. So, when I heard them take “Weather” directly into “Time” by Floyd, I almost suffered a coronary. As soon as Paul started in with those lyrics, it was all over. It was an unabashedly free and frenetic moment of pure musical ecstasy for yours truly. Mixing together two of my very favorite bands? And so, so, so, so well, too. So good!! I cannot begin to tell you how amazing. We grabbed a video of Scramble Campbell engaging in his singularly magical insanity painting GSBG while they played. It’s a short one but gets you a little of this unbelievable song, please enjoy!!
Pretty colossal stuff, right? So big. So bold. So magnificent. The central jam was full of raw, Floyd-like energy that really captured so much of the earthy grit and organic feeling of the original. Paul and Mike just nailed the vocals and the harmonies, too. Honestly, I could write an entire review of just this song, it was so good. And Bont was killing me at the end with his solo — Floyd on banjo? Forget about it!! A little down the set, they invited Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon out on the stage to join in on some of the fun. They threw Vince the mic for a joint version of “Woody Guthrie”, Herman’s modern plea to Guthrie and how his absence is felt palpably today. But, don’t let me tell you all about it when you can watch it here:
Nothing like having Uncle Vince out there to sing you one, right? Emmitt and Herman stayed out there for the next song, “Hit Parade of Love”, a Bruzza vocal lead. Some fast pickin’ it surely was, my friends. Whew!! Hard to keep up with all that music simply flying from the stage like a never-ending flock of note-shaped songbirds. Lots of fast fingers laying down some super quick solos, man to man and back again. Vince had his chance on guitar and surely did not disappoint. Then it was time for Drew on mando only to be answered by Beck on dobro. Seriously, how do they play so quickly?? After bidding Vince and Drew adieu, they debuted a new song for us next called “Past My Prime” which is always a treasured treat. Nothing like being musical test monkeys for a phenomenal band like this. Paul also said that they had a brand new record coming out this fall, so we’ve got that going for us, which is nice. Hoffman was back up to the mic for this one, spinning a new tale of GSBG lore to us, all of us eager to a person to hear. I really liked this one for many reasons, from Hoffman’s mando lead in to Bont’s early solo to Beck and that dobro of his providing foundation for the verses alongside Bruzza and Devol. I guess what I am getting at is the really fine ensemble sound I was getting from this one. Looking forward to hearing it again in the future! They finished out this stellar first set with a pretty long “Living Over”, allowing for lots of room to jam things out. And did they ever! I mean, the central breakdown was minutes long…so good! What a big ending to a big set like this. Not surprising at all, of course. I mean, we all knew that they’d bring it at Red Rocks. And boy did they. In spades! And there was still the second set to go!!
What a night of music so far. Salmon, so damn good. Then Greensky just killing it in their wake? Phenomenal is the word that comes to mind. But there is still more music to discuss. I know, right? Dave took the lead straight out of the gate on “Letter to Seymour”, his guitar racing to the fast pace they took, his vocals soaring into the night air around the countless Greensky fans in attendance that evening. This one clipped along so quickly it was over before we even realized it going right into “In Control”. Paul was back up to the mic for this one, the band slowing things down to a more heartfelt pace as he crooned out this melancholy tale we had all heard so many incredible times before. So rich and so full this version sounded, no doubt augmented by the very Red Rocks themselves. It was plain to see that the band were responding to the surroundings, of course, and in such magical and marvelous ways. I really fell into Mike Bont’s solo on this one, that man owning his instrument in such tender and touching ways as to deliver such a lovely line of music to us all. Only to hand that ethos directly over to Beck at the other end of the line, who took the feeling and ran with it, enticing notes so delightfully gorgeous from his devoted dobro. Then it was time for another guest: Andy Thorn came out, banjo in hand, ready to get down with the boys from Kalamazoo. Double banjos? Did you read that right? Hells yeah, you did. And, damn, son!! How good was this?? And lengthy, too…over 11 minutes! To keep that pace up, too. Whew! “Can’t Stop Now” was a lesson in hard drivin’, fast pickin’ and one that you needed to race to keep up with. Everybody was taking chance after chance of schooling the general Universe on his respective instrument. It was pretty breathtaking. No, seriously. Or was that just all those Red Rocks stairs? But Bont and Thorn’s duet was the creme-de-la-creme of the song. Holy schneikies!! There was no stopping those two gents that’s for sure. Later on in the set came another big version of a crowd favorite, Traffic’s “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” — again with more great music and lots of it to boot. Talk about your value, eh? What a band! Bruzza’s blistering solo was pretty boss in this one leading to Phoff’s own massive mando ministrations, just to blend seamlessly back into the mix. These men are masters, it is truer than true. The ending jam in this one was almost too incredible to relate to you: so much energy bursting forth from the very seams of the music itself spinning us all up into the night skies like a rocket-powered spaceship of laughter and pure mirth. Next up came a personal favorite of mine, and one of many in the crowd, too, apparently. Always great to share a favorite with someone, right? “Old Barns” had Phoff at the mic again for the lead vocals, with that perfect ensemble sound supporting him all the way along. Bont stepped forward for a pretty sweet solo towards the beginning of things which, in turn, led to one from Hoffman on mando. All in all a mighty respectable version of this song. Cheers to you, lads, many thanks!! Later still in the set we were treated to “Wings for Wheels”, that stalwart GSBG ballad, Bruzza at the helm and mic with Anders’s dobro providing that oh-so-familiar lead in, every ear yearning for each subsequent note. No doubting how amazingly happy the crowd was, every face I saw was smiling in adoration and complete satisfaction, mouths singing along to the lyrics as Dave would come back into each verse. The sense of community was wonderfully overwhelming. Then it was time for the biggest ride of the night: “Broke Mountain Breakdown > Forever Young > Broke Mountain Breakdown” — you read that correctly, yes. Over 20 minutes of straight music. Fast pickin’? You bet. Hard drivin’? No doubt. Excellent beyond a doubt? Well, now, you had best believe it. Supremely fine musicianship all around, too. Each man just dominating his chosen instrument in rapid succession and back around again and again. And it just went on and on and on for minute after minute. And we all couldn’t have been happier about the whole affair! And things got nice and funky in the middle which was a groove we all definitely got into, feet still dancing after hours of doing the same, happy to still be moving and kicking and stomping and carrying on. I just might need to direct you to the Internet Archive again to go find this show and hit up this “Broke Mountain” — you know, for your own good. I’m just trying to look out for my people. You know. Then, when they segued into Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”? Forget about it! What an unexpected treat! Phoff nailed the lyrics as well as some tasty mandolin licks throughout while the band supported him with that magnificence of ensemble they do so very well. Anders delivered a truly gorgeous solo in the middle the line of which he handed over expertly to Bont who took it up on the banjo adeptly and with ease. Then it was right back into “Broke Mountain” for a whizz-bang ending, GSBG-style. Fast pickin’ to the very end, this one provided that perfect musical smack at the end of a fantastic night. And, at the final note, the cheers of the crowd were truly deafening, reverberating off Ship Rock and Creation Rock to our left and right as we watch the band leave the stage, voices yelling our desire for one more song. And, to our great delight, we got that one song. And that song was “Leap Year”. A nice, lengthy “Leap Year”. Serving up succulent bluegrass specialties until the very end of their show, Greensky made sure to the make the most of their encore to our benefit. They jammed this one out nice and long and the crowd was sure to take in all they could. We were all filled to the brim already but were willing to try to stuff a bit more marvelous GSBG experience into our souls. What a way to finish off a show such as this!! What a way to own the Red Rocks stage so summarily!! What a show to give their fans in such a place!! As I write this almost a week later I am still reeling from the event. So many thanks to Greensky and their hardworking people for this incredible, incredible show. I am so happy for you guys and so proud of you, to be quite honest. I think a lot of us are. What an achievement!! Bravi, gentlemen!! I am so glad I got to share such a triumphant moment with you. I look forward to many more years at Red Rocks to come, of course. Cheers and thanks to one and all for making last Saturday night so special in so many ways. And, as always, thanks for reading, my friends!!