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WinterWonderGrass CO 2016 - Saturday

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WinterWonderGrass CO 2016 - Saturday

WinterWonderGrass CO 2016

Festival Experience Archive

for The Lot Scene by Parker

Saturday Highlights

Peter Rowan & Friends - Fruition - Greensky Bluegrass

    Saturday was here and with it another gorgeous day in Avon, CO.  The weather was mild for the time of year to say the least and many folks weren’t even wearing coats, myself included.  Crazy to think a hoodie will keep you warm in the middle of winter in the Rockies.  Well, heat waves are heat waves.  It was nice to have a reprieve from all the scarves and gloves and hats and big winter coats of the nighttime.  Those would be back around soon enough, however.  After grabbing some very necessary and very delectable food from the vendors at the back, we made our way around to the various tents taking in as much music as possible throughout the afternoon.  Here are the highlights from the main stage for you, my friends.

    As I stated in my earlier WonderGrass reviews, it was quite the honor and gift to have Mr. Peter Rowan present and in such wonderful form.  As such, the Peter Rowan & Friends on the bill promised to be rife with excellent music and teeming with talent.  And the promise was kept, believe-you-me.  Jay Starling (Love Canon), Tyler Thompson(Fruition), Peter Knight (Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band), and Tyler Grant (The Grant Farm) turned out to be Peter’s friends for the afternoon set.  And how happy we were that was the case!  What a powerhouse group of musicians!  We were certainly in for some special times to come in the very near future.  Peter chose “Wild Horses” as the first selection for the ensemble.  His voice sounding as clear and pure as the day he started singing, Mr. Rowan crooned gently and sweetly to the audience in only the way that he can.  Jay’s dobro was the perfect counterpoint to Peter’s voice, that distinctive sound buoying up the lyrics as Jay pulled note after soft and angelic note from his instrument.  An auspicious start to a wonderful set of songs.  Time to get the crowd a-singing along!!  Good ol’ “Midnight Moonlight”, that trusted friend, was next in line.  Mr. Rowan had a particularly lovely guitar solo during which Tyler Grant made his entrance.  Classy stuff, my friends.  And more of that epic dobro from Mr. Starling.  The crowd was certainly pleased with this one as I counted the smiles and number of mouths singing the words.  Impossible to count them all.  Not surprising in the slightest given the stellar nature of what was occurring on the stage.  A big, juicy, lengthy island medley came after in the form of “Johnny Too Bad” > “Jamaica Farewell” > “No Woman, No Cry” — a reggae-inspired feast for the ears this one had us singing along again and feeling the warmth of the Caribbean on our faces amidst the snow-covered Colorado mountains.  And what a wonderful feeling that was, too.  Luckily, we captured that very 15 minutes on film for you.  Please enjoy: 

Pretty epic stuff, huh?  Precisely.  Nothing like that Peter Rowan, right?  Nothing, indeed.  “Doc Watson Morning” is a song that Peter wrote for Doc himself, a story of Watson’s musical life and influence in song.  A serenely mild and beautiful piece, this one tugs a bit at the heart strings, as intended, I’m sure.  “I pick up my old guitar and I start to play…cause it's a Doc Watson mornin' D-18 guitar pickin' kinda day.”  Sounds like a great way to spend a morning to me.  “Panama Red” followed “Doc” and proved to be exactly what you’d expect from this group:  spectacular.  Another tried and true song of the catalogue, this one never fails to get the crowd a-going.  Grant was pure excellence on the guitar with Peter’s solid bass line keeping things level unit the very end.  Same goes for Thompson’s beats all set — solid as a rock.  A marvelous group of musicians for Peter to play with.  They really sounded tight and polished.  And, as always, any opportunity to see Mr. Rowan play is one that a person should take, hands down.  Sincerely hope that he returns to WWG next year!  Bravi, gents!

Peter Rowan & Friends

Peter Rowan & Friends

    Fruition, that whack ado walloping wonderment from Portland, were up next on the WinterWonderGrass main stage.  Suffice it to say, I am a rather big fan of this band.  And there are so many reasons I should be, too.  Electric hot instrumental playing on behalf of all members.  Lightning intensity in each and every song.  A robust and varied sound given the high level of multi-instrumentalism in the group.  So many good things in one, crazy fun package.  And that’s what Fruition really is at heart:  pure fun.  Pure musical genius combined with fun.  And heaps of talent and skill.  And all of them were ready to tear it completely limb-from-limb for us that evening.  Jay Cobb Anderson was up to the mic to lend his wonderfully unique voice for the first song, “Git Along”.  Of course, the delightful harmonies that characterize this band also make for an incredible feast for the ears, as made apparent in this one.  And we were off and running into the set!  “Blue Light” was next on the docket, dark and mysterious and brooding.  Kellen Asebroek provided lead vocals on this song perfectly fitting into the atmosphere of the piece.  I really do love all the voices of the three main vocalists in the band (Mimi Naja being the third).  Makes for an eclectic and very entertaining act.  Nice, deep and dusky bass work from Jeff Leonard here, too.  Really kept the driving motion throughout this song.  Mimi grabbed the mic for “Lay Down Blues” which came after.  Lots of delicious guitar from Jay in it from start to finish — really kept a fantastic rock’n’roll feel.  And the nighttime was the right time again as we danced in the cooling night air.  Mimi just nailed the vocals, too…as she always does.  I didn't see a single person who wasn’t dancing madly about as I looked around during “Lay Down”.  And I wasn’t the least bit surprised.  I know I was dancing madly about as well!!  Then my absolute current favorite song by Fruition came next:  “There She Was”.  In talking with Kellen late night at the Westin Hotel lobby one early morning he explained that, after going to a Motet show he wanted to write a funk song.  He said that he took a song he was working on, retooled it, and, well, “There She Was” so to speak.  And what a funk song it is!!  Funky and catchy and fabulous and charmingly crack-like this song has so much right going on with it.  I challenge you to not have this song in your head for days after hearing it.  Hell, Kellen said even he has it on the brain all the time.  You know it must be quite the catchy one, if that’s the case, right?  Always so happy to hear them play this song.  Thank you so much to Kellen for writing it and to the band for playing it so very well!!  A bit later in the set Tyler Thompson and Jeff Leonard set the tone in a mean style on the drums and bass, respectively, for the intro to “I Don’t Mind”.  Groovy and gritty, when Jay joined in on guitar, the texture took flight into a brazen rock song with Mimi destroying the lead vocals.  “I just keep moving.  I might be losing, but I don’t mind.”  Not a bad message of perseverance, eh?  Kicking things back up to ‘Ludicrous Speed’ Fruition thrashed out this next song in such delightful ways!  Crazy fast pickin’ and singing to boot, if you dig on wicked guitar riffs accompanied by mad, mad mando playing all shored up by some badass drums and baller bass, then you’d love “Never Again”.  And they really wailed this one out, too…inspiring dancing galore down on the ground before the stage.  Hard to be cold when the music is so very hot.  Succinctly fun times all around I have no doubts.  Jumping a bit ahead in the setlist we were all treated to a magma-hot “Fire” with none other than the Andy Thorn (Leftover Salmon) guesting in on his mighty banjo and the one and only Mr. Larry Keel on guitar.  And…guess what?  We’ve got it for you right here — hope you enjoy!!! 

Enjoyed it, right?  How couldn’t you?  That’s some seriously wonderful music coming at you like a velvet hammer.  Andy stayed out with the Portland crew for another, this time “I Can’t Stop”, Jay taking the lead with that incredible vibrant voice of his.  A song of personal exploration and understanding, it is a stroll on the pensive side of Fruition’s catalogue.  Gorgeous mandolin solo from Mimi in the mid section here as well.  Love her style.  And speaking of Mimi, how about her covering a little Jimmy Cliff for us all?  Please and thank you!!  “The Harder They Come” proved quite the audience-pleaser, but of course.  And it sounded fantastic.  Great cover addition to the setlist for the evening to be sure.  Finally, a wee bit more down the set, the band closed things down by inviting Paul Hoffman (Greensky Bluegrass) up on stage to help them thrown down an awesome “Mountain Annie”.  It was really superb to hear Paul step up to the mic to take the lead vocals a couple of times.  He sounded really organic and marvelous singing alongside Fruition.  This is a guest spot I’d like to see many times over in the future.  A really tight and enjoyable version of this song.  Many thanks to one and all for it and for a ridiculously good show.  Certainly many new Fruition fans were forged that night and with very good reason.  Bravi to the band and their friends who joined them to make it such a special night!!  Love this band!!  And there was still more music left in the evening, too…crazy right?

Fruition and Paul Hoffman

Fruition and Paul Hoffman

    Green.  Sky.  Blue.  Grass.  Just wanted to get your attention.  You know, since this was one crazy good ass show.  Headlining the main stage for two consecutive nights, we were all poised and ready to ride along with GSBG for their first evening of magic and fun.  No matter how many times I see this band, each subsequent time is always that much better than the last.  Not really sure how they manage this seeming infraction of the laws of musical physics.  But, who cares?  These gents know how to jam in such innovative and interesting and inspiring ways — truly they bring a comprehensive show to the stage that never fails to satisfy.  They opened things up that Saturday with “The Four” > “One More Saturday Night” mixing a bit o’ the Dead in with your Greensky.  And what a mixture it was!!  But don’t take my word for it, check it out here: 

Let’s get this party started quickly, right?  Quickly, indeed.  Two songs in already and having a blast.  Fast pickin’ was up next with “Just to Lie”, Dave Bruzza providing a driving guitar line over the top of Mike Devol’s foundational bass.  This gave license for a bright mando solo from Paul and some lovely banjo work from Mike Bont.  I’d be remiss, of course, if I didn’t mention Anders Beck’s ever-present and sonorous dobro, but, then again, I am a total sucker for dobro.  Andy Thorn (Leftover Salmon) came out for the next song, “Burn Them”, adding his very own brand of banjo to the ensemble.  “What if sorrows swim?”  What a question!!  Andy tore it up, too.  Some great duet work with Bont as well as plenty of solo riffing and picking.  Double banjos, when played by gents such as these…what more could you as for?  There was a huge, epic, dirty, gorgeous, amazing jam in the middle of this one, too.  So much great music.  So much great banjo!  Bravo, Bont!  Bravo, Andy!!  A bit further into the set came “Dustbowl Overtures” followed by “Bringing in the Georgia Mail” both of which sounded simply magnificent.  The fellas were really on fire that night in the chilly evening.  They kept that fire going strong with “Demons”, the next song in line which they dedicated to Fruition.  This seemed apropos given the story Paul told us regarding Fruition playing “Demons” for him at a festival a couple of years back.  They took it at a nice clip, too, maybe another homage to the band of dedication?  Paul’s mandolin work was its usual excellence here and the omnipresence of Anders’ dobro is always a welcome friend.  However, I cannot go without mentioning Bruzza’s big ol’ fat solo in the middle which he handed off seamlessly to Beck.  Watching this band trade off melody lines is like watching a highly-tuned soccer team at work on the pitch:  expert and masterful.  Keeping things nice and heated, we got a riveting and riotous “Kerosene” which came at us like a cyclone circus caravan crashing over and all around us in large splashes of music and light.  Another quick one, “Kerosene” proved a fertile ground for fat jams and sizzling hot solos as each member of the band took his turn to melt a few more faces out in the crowd.  This, in turn, was followed by “Wings for Wheels” and then “Leap Year” to close things out.  “Leap Year” featured some good and raucous teases as one might hope:  mainly in the form of “I Feel Like Bustin’ Loose” and “It’s Getting Hot in Here”.  Paul, you nut.  Just can’t resist can you?  And thank all that’s decent and good for that!!  As an encore we were gifted with an appropriately magnificent “Atlantic City”, one of my favorite covers of theirs.  And a huge favorite of the crowd if their screams of approval were any indication.  Dobro goodness up until the very end of the show!  Ahhhh…how nice.  And all those incredible musicians, each of the GSBG gentlemen — so fantastic tonight, such a stellar show.  A big, big round of thanks to one and all for making Saturday night at WonderGrass so very special.  It was almost hard to believe that we had yet one more show in store with these fine musicians the following evening!  So glad that was the case, however.  So very glad, indeed.  What a night with Greensky!!

Greensky Bluegrass

Greensky Bluegrass

    And then it was over and Saturday was already relegated to magnificent memory.  We’d seen so many great acts, heard so much marvelous music.  And we still had late night to go…Billy Strings and The Lil’ Smokies.  Talk about your late night!  And there was also Sunday in the works.  Sunday Funday, on the horizon and ready with even more music for those who had room left.  Like me.  I had more than enough and I was prepared in all ways necessary to consume more delicious bluegrass music.  But that is a story yet to come, my friends…

Sunday on its way, everyone!!

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10th Annual Big Sky Big Grass - Big Sky, MT - Saturday/Sunday

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10th Annual Big Sky Big Grass - Big Sky, MT - Saturday/Sunday

10th Annual Big Sky Big Grass

Festival Experience Archive

for The Lot Scene by Parker

Saturday

The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience - Sam Bush Band

    Late night Friday was a sea of pickin’ parties, libations, and great conversations.  Those wee hours of the morning really breakdown all the remaining barriers between musicians and festival goers to create something truly unique and special.  And tiring after a couple of nights in a row…sleep is always at a premium at Big Sky Big Grass.  But, hey, we’ve plenty of time to sleep in our graves, right?  After catching a few important hours of sleep and pulling ourselves together for another evening of music, it was time for Saturday to get going in full swing.  And, trust me, with the likes of David Grisman and Sam Bush in the mix, it promised to be quite an evening.      

    Sadly, I have to report that there were some severe sound issues for David Grisman’s set.  In the fact that the audience couldn’t really hear much of anything.  I am not sure if there were mic issues or soundboard issues, however, the point remains that if I cannot hear the music, I cannot report on it.  What we did hear of favorites like “Walkin’ the Dog” sounded potentially wonderful.  However, the technical gods were against us that night, it seemed.  A real tragedy for such a bluegrass legend as Grisman.

David Grisman Bluegrass Experience

David Grisman Bluegrass Experience

    Luckily the techs fixed the sound for the next act, the Sam Bush Band.  And thank goodness for that!  Sammy and crew came tearing out of the gate with a fiddle tune care of Mr. Bush.  This one turned dirty good by tune’s end, nice and gritty with a driving bass line from Todd Parks.  Really quite a baller way to get things all riled up in the Missouri Ballroom that night.  “This Heart of Mine” followed with Sam back on mandolin and featuring some really tight vocal harmonies and some truly fine guitar work from Stephen Mougin.  This, in turn, led to an excellent “One More Love Song” with Sam getting tender in the lyrics all the while absolutely jamming out on mandolin.  “I wanna sing you one more love song…why leave it this way?”  Why leave it that way, indeed, right Sammy?  Really liked that one.  The next one in line that night was the instrumental “By Stealth” which was a riveting run through some serious hard drivin’ fast pickin’ with each musician stepping up to show their skills.  Simply sizzling solo from Scott Vestal on banjo — definitely of note.  This kind of tune is precisely the perfect space to observe some intense musicianship in action.  And the Sam Bush Band did not disappoint on this front whatsoever.   This led to the foot-stomping good time that is “East Virginia Blues” with Sam, of course, on the vocals and mando.  Incredible guitar stylings from Stephen Mougin in this one — they really kept the drive of the song going full force.  Then Sam and company took us for a ride on “The Bluegrass Train”.  Nothing like a good train song, right?  And nothing like hopping on the train that is the Sam Bush Band for one helluva musical ride.  And what a ride it was, too!!  Nasty, nasty excellent mando solo from Sam here, just amazing.  Thanks for that one, Sammy, fellas!  Later on in the set came the touching and soulful “Circles Around Me” (“High in Telluride…”) and later still came a little Jerry Lee Lewis with some “Great Balls of Fire”.  And what fire there was, let me tell you!!  Grassing up a version of this one was definitely the right move — it was fast, fun, and full of up energy for everyone.  Especially that incredibly hot banjo solo from Scott.  Damn can that man play!  So quick!!   Another great cover came after in the form of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” which instantly had the crowd tuned in and singing along.  A lengthy and lovely “Same Ol’ River” clocking in at 16:01 followed — talk about something you can really sink your musical teeth into!  What a journey!   Later on in the show, they closed with another fiddle tune, care of Sam.  Rollicking and rolling this one was a great way to end things for the evening.  But wait, they weren’t done yet!  There was a multi-song encore set on its was with lots of special guests!  The cast of characters you ask?  In addition to Sam and band we have Cody Kilby (The Travelin’ McCourys), David Grisman, Ronnie McCoury (The Travelin’ McCourys), Bela Fleck, amongst a few others gathered for some encore fun.  The first song up was “Little Girl of Tennessee” with Sam up on the vocals.  So much star power on one stage — how couldn’t it sound pretty damn amazing?  Which it did, of course.  Such great music.  And just stunning, stunning playing from everyone.  After two (yes two) more numbers it was time for the really big finish with “Bluegrass Breakdown”, a heart-palpitatingly quick race through some severely impressive fast pickin’.  One and all these gents threw down in superbly fine fashion bringing the main stage of the Missouri to a whiz-bang of a close for the night.  So very many thanks to Sam, his band, and their guests on stage that evening.  What a ride, what a rush!  Certainly only whetted the appetite for more bluegrass joy to follow on Sunday!!

Sam Bush Band & Friends

Sam Bush Band & Friends

Sunday

Billy Strings - Drew Emmitt Band - Jeff Austin Band - Keller Williams with The Travelin’ McCourys

    Sunday had found us once again but were still fresh and frosty and ready for a monster of a great time care of some premium bluegrass music.  It had been a long and luxuriant weekend as we basked in bluegrass clear up to our grinning faces.  And the best part about Sundays, my friends?  More music!!  That’s right.  More of that specific brand of awesomeness that we all thrive upon, that we yearn for.  The surprise TBD set ended up going to Mr. Billy Strings and we were all glad that it did.  Due to the Superbowl, the place was empty.  And I mean criminally empty — but, whatever.  Roll with it, right?  Private show?  You bet!  Billy started out solo crooning some songs and pickin’ tune for us.  He began with Doc Watson’s “Nashville Blues”, a perfect selection to show off the great balance between Billy’s amazing guitar playing and his lovely baritone singing.  Fantastic fast pickin’ and classic bluegrass singing.  What more could you ask for?  Continuing in that theme, we got a mighty fine “Brown’s Ferry Blues” care of Mr. Strings.  Sure didn’t seem like Billy had the blues to me, but, hey, you’ve gotta go with something on your setlist, right?  Plus he simply killed the first two songs.  Which made us eager to hear the minor and slightly morose “Wild Bill Jones” which was next on the docket.  A cautionary tale doled out in a gentle but powerful singing voice and counterpointed always by the ever-moving fingers of this young man’s magical hands as they fly over strings and fretboard.  A light and lively guitar tune medley followed comprised of “Give the Fiddler a Dram” and “Whistling Rufus” and “Ragtime Annie”, highlighting for one and all that skill plus talent plus hard work that is the musical might that is Billy Strings.  Billy credited Doc Watson for the inspiration for this medley.  Continuing with some more Watson, he next played a superb version of “Hold the Woodpile Down” which featured some blistering, blistering guitar action.  Not that we were surprised.  Just in awe as always.  Tyler Grant (The Grant Farm) came out and joined Billy for what he termed “guitarmageddon”.  Love it.  “Lost Indian”, a fiddle tune, was to be their first number.  And my goodness…two guitar greats such as these pickin’ away at the same time, on the same stage??  Forget about it!  Seriously.  It was mind-meltingly excellent all the way around.  So many incredible guest spots and collaborations at this fest!  I love it!  And then it was time for a vocal duet…sweet.  Another Doc Watson selection (am I sensing a theme?) and this time “Way Downtown”.  Super fine harmonies from the get-go — really great blend between the two gents on stage.  And the seemingly effortless intertwining of their guitar lines was just beautiful to behold.  Most certainly a great pairing here.  Would love to see more of this very act in the future.  Such good guitar work from both fellas.  So good!  A little later in the set the two of them gave us a a rousing “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar” especially given the guys singing this very song.  The thought of either of them laying down their guitars is almost anathema.  Listening back to my notes all I hear is just how much guitar is present at every point throughout these songs.  So many notes played with such skills and acumen.  It is so impressive — just makes me so very grateful that there are those of us out there who can and do play as such for all the rest of us to so thoroughly enjoy.  “My Rose of Old Kentucky” that stalwart standard and favorite came after, all of us still being treated to the joy of those double guitars.  This certainly was a Watson-heavy affair.  And I couldn’t have been happier.  Finally, as an encore, these two fine gentlemen played us an energetic and moving instrumental tune which had the growing crowd dancing and hopping to the rapid beat.  A truly lovely way to end a lovely set.  Bravo to Billy for all that he is and does!!  Bravo to Tyler for providing the perfect duo companion to share the stage with Billy!!  Bravi to them both for such exquisite music and a fabulous show!!

Billy Strings & Tyler Grant

Billy Strings & Tyler Grant

    And then it was time some Drew Emmitt Band all up in our lives.  Hells yeah.  Joining in on the fun were Sam Bush on fiddle, Tyler Grant on guitar, and Robbie McCoury on banjo.  Not a bad lineup.  Not a bad lineup whatsoever, my friends.  It appeared that we were in for a real treat.  And that treat got started off with a personal favorite John Hartford song:  “Steam Powered Aereoplane”.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard it better, to be quite honest.  Tyler Grant had a really excellent solo early on in this one…man do I just love his playing.  And what an incredible version of this song.  So happy to have gotten this one.  And as an opener, too.  The ensemble rocked out to a Leftover Salmon fave next with “Breakin’ Thru”, Drew leading the whole energetic gathering threw with his strong, distinctive voice.  And such a great ensemble sound coming from the stage already.  Just a testament to the utter professionalism and intensive skills of these musicians.  Not to mention the beast of an ending breakdown, Sam Bush tearing his fiddle bow apart as we all howled our appreciation and enjoyment from below the stage.  Such an electric finish!   However, it would seem I experienced some technical difficulties with my voice recorder (and best concert friend) for a few songs of Drew’s set.  Corrupted data, garbled playback, etc.  So, my apologies to you in that I cannot report on much of this show.  However, we trudge on, right?  Sorry Drew!  Sorry Drew band!  “Crossroads” by Cream provided the encore selection for the evening which saw Drew on electric guitar.  Sam Bush had an important fiddle solo smack in the middle of this one.  And it all sounded of pure excellence.  Rob McCoury flexed his banjo chops something fierce in this one as well.  A really awesome and fun set from the Drew Emmitt Band and Friends.  A perfect Sunday Funday band if I’ve ever seen one.  Thanks, gentlemen!!

Drew Emmitt Band & Friends

Drew Emmitt Band & Friends

    Jeff.  Austin.  Band.  Hells yeah.  Time for some gritty bluegrass attitude, shaken, not stirred.  A long and building instrumental opening led us to “Reuben’s Train” proper and, in no time, we were all steaming along on this mad locomotive with Jeff Austin at the wheel headed towards some seriously bonkers good music.  Hurling along with JAB down the electrified track that is one of their sets is always a rocking good time.  Seriously rocking.  And they kept right on rocking with a fast picker’s delight, “Time Ain’t Time”.  Such quick and rapid intertwining of instrument lines!  Gorgeous.  Amazing mando solo from Jeff in this one — that man plays with so much conviction.  Damn!  This was followed by an incredible solo from Ryan Cavanaugh on banjo.  A riveting ride from start to finish!  We were off to such a great start!  A mellow lead in from Jeff on mandolin to the next song provided a nice groove for us all to fall into.  “15 Steps” slowly crept up and hit us all full in the face with just that kind of song and feeling we’ve all come to expect from Jeff over the years.  Ross Martin (guitar) and Eric Thorin (bass) chose to get down and funky in the middle of this one, too.  Most certainly a groovy, groovy song.  Hard drivin’?  Fast pickin’?  You want those things huh?  Well, the “Red Haired Boy” that they gave us next was all of that and so much more.  They dedicated it to Billy Strings, too.  Isn’t that lovely of them?  Damn was this a fast one.  Blisteringly quick.  And played so well by all on stage.  Tight.  Nothing like getting an old classic like this from the Jeff Austin Band.  Cavanaugh got down and dirty in this one on banjo, really smoking that melody line.  This was answered by Ross Martin on guitar who funked things up a bit himself.  All in all, another thrilling ride on the JAB Express.  Next up on the setlist was “My Sisters and Brothers” a Charles Johnson song made famous by the Jerry Garcia Band.  Fant-freakin-tastic!  And then it was a lengthy and trippy “Ragdoll” which dominated the set.  Some serious exploratory moments wrapped in there.  It’s just good to see they’re still doing this song.  Love this one…but who doesn’t, right?  After that big entree of bluegrass dinner, dessert came in the form of a rollicking “Sideshow Blues”.  Cruising at top speed right up until end of their set, JAB pulled out all the stops that evening, including on “Sideshow”.  They came, they saw, they destroyed it.  JAB.  Incredible set, fellas…so many thanks for the music!  Very much looking forward to my next dance with the Jeff Austin Band.

Jeff Austin Band

Jeff Austin Band

    I cannot tell you just how excited I was to finally be seeing Keller Williams and the Travelin’ McCourys together on the same stage.  I’d been waiting quite awhile for that magic to strike me and strike me it did in full force that night.  All the boys assembled on stage surely meant some serious business from the very get go.  “I Am Elvis” is how they chose to ramp things up.  Talk about an album-quality show!!  Each song was so tight and so polished, if you closed your eyes it was hard to tell live from Memorex, so to speak (think I just dated myself there a bit haha).  “It’s all in my mind…I live inside my imagination.”  Well, it was certainly not all in my mind Saturday night at Big Sky Big Grass.  It was on the stage and it was bold, brazen, beautiful, and badass.  They took “Elvis” directly into a little Donna Summer with “Hot Stuff” and why not?  It’s not as if this group of stringslingers didn’t have the chops for this one.  Bouncing, lovely energy just cascading off the stage, Jason Carter’s fiddle lighting up the night like a beacon of pure sound, this one pulled the crowd into a merry den of musical mayhem and set us up right for the remainder of the set.  Up next was “Broken Convertible” with its tongue-in-cheek lyrics sung by none other than Keller himself.  Talk about another album-perfect one!  It really is a shame that Keller and the McCourys don’t tour more often together — this is one incredible act to see, my friends!  And with Keller changing the lyrics to reference a Sam Bush presidential bid/win, who could be disappointed?  Modest Mouse’s “Float On” came next in line for us — quite the surprise, but an excellent cover.  And Ronnie McCoury’s mandolin solo was something special to be sure.  Certainly another crowd pleaser for this tiny but voracious audience especially with the Dexys Midnight Runners “Come On Eileen” teaser thrown in for good measure.  After that, Ronnie was up to the mic to croon the vocals on “The Graveyard Shift” and he just nailed it to the wall.  Of course.  As if there could be any doubts as to that.  Simply splendid vocal harmonies in “Graveyard” to boot…always so nice to listen to.  And let us not forget Rob McCoury’s monster solo on banjo or Cody Kilby’s unequalled guitar skills throughout the song.  A stroll with the Grateful Dead followed in the form of a mellow and masterful “Candyman”.  Some Grateful Grass with the McCourys, eh Keller?  Maybe that’s the next lineup?  Maybe?  Would that it could be so.  How marvelous would that be?  An entire show of Dead songs thrown down by Keller and the McCourys??  Magnificence!  “Something Else” came on the heels of “Candyman” and was followed by Mike Doughty’s “American Car” — both of which sounded stupendous.  As you might expect.  Keller was in great voice all night, too…made for a near perfect-sounding concert.  It was Alan Bartram’s turn up at the microphone next for “Messed Up Just Right” one of my very favorite songs from the Pick album.  And Alan has such an awesome voice, too!  He really knows how to burn this song down.  Not your typical love song, but nonetheless incredible.  Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky” was our next offering that evening…yes, you read that correctly.  Keller busted out some quality lyrics as the band really embraced this one, Jason Carter’s fiddle line capturing the melodic movement of the original.  And Rob’s driving banjo line was ever-present providing a forward motion to the whole song, grassing it up all the more.  They took this directly into a bluegrass version of Keller’s “Tweeker” which was something else to be sure.  One helluva great treatment of this song.  A whistled Andy Griffith theme song tease helped to keep us all on our toes through this string band whirlwind combined with Keller’s unique dance music.  Ronnie McCoury sure took the opportunity to slay on mando in the middle of “Tweeker” — righteous to a ’T’.  Different that’s for sure.  And fun as all hell.  A little later in the set we got the poignant and feelings-provoking “Price Tag”.  Really love this song and love the way they just own it even though it’s a cover.  Hard to believe that when faced with the gorgeous wall of musical sound that hits you like a velvet hammer.  “…we don’t need your money.  Just wanna make the world dance, forget about your price tag.”  There’s quite a lot of wisdom in those words, my friends.  Blake Shelton’s “Sangria” followed and then a rousing “Mullet Cut” came after.  What a setlist!  So much good music!  And they weren’t done yet!  And how about a little Foster the People?  Just when you thought this set couldn’t get any broader for bluegrass, a little “Pumped Up Kicks” comes along and smacks you around in all the right ways.  And Rob’s banjo solo?  Forget about it!  Just nasty!!  Not to mention his brother’s own brand of nasty on the mandolin to follow.  Talented family…no doubts there.  Sam Bush, Drew Emmitt, and Billy Strings joined the stage for the encore madness and madness it was.  The best kind.  Billy stepped up to the mic to belt out the lyrics to “Freeborn Man” for us as well all danced the night away, never stopping, never wanting to miss a beat, a note, a word…anything!  And how about that phenomenal Billy Strings guitar solo, too?  Hotness of the best kind.  Back to the Dead for a hot minute, the next encore selection was “Men Smart, Women Smarter” which featured a sizzling Sam Bush solo on mandolin.  Always a fun song, no?  Then came the final song of the evening:  a riveting and quick run through some bluegrass goodness.  This one was sung by Sam Bush and, sadly, I didn’t manage to catch the title for you.  Just know this:  it was teeming with incredible musicianship from every gent on stage, just oozing musical awesomeness at every turn.  And one amazing way to close things down on the main stage in the Missouri for the 2016 Big Sky Big Grass.  So very many thanks to Keller and the McCourys for such a superb night of music!!

Keller Williams & The Travelin' McCourys

Keller Williams & The Travelin' McCourys

    And then, sadly, it was all over.  The 10th Annual Big Sky Big Grass had concluded and done so in great style.  We had been welcomed over and over all weekend until we felt a part of the Big Sky family and we so grateful for the experience.  If you’re looking for a unique festival that boasts amazing music and some really cool other aspects then look no further.  Consider a jaunt up to Big Sky…make the trek.  Talk about bragging rights, huh?  Thanks for reading, everyone!!  Hope you enjoyed it!!

Late Night Pickin' Party

Late Night Pickin' Party

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Greensky Bluegrass - 20 November 2015 - The Ogden Theater - Denver, CO

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Greensky Bluegrass - 20 November 2015 - The Ogden Theater - Denver, CO

Greensky Bluegrass

20 November 2015 - The Ogden Theater - Denver, 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

Set One:  Cold Feet, Last Winter in Copper Country, Letter to Seymour, Dustbowl Overtures, Windshield, Through the Trees, I’m Still Here, All Four, Julius

Set Two:  Just to Lie, Jaywalking > Just Listening, Tarpology>Into The Mystic>Tarpology, Pig in a Pen, Forget Everything, Don’t Lie

Encore:  Frederico

    A sold-out show brought the voluminous audience into The Ogden Theater last Friday night, braving the cold and snow they weren’t to be deterred from their prize:  an evening with Greensky Bluegrass in the heart of Denver, Colorado.  And, as was apparent from the energy in the Ogden from the moment we walked in, this Colorado crowd was ravenous for some sizzling hot string music from Kalamazoo’s favorite sons.  From banners hung for the band’s appreciation to the sardine-style SRO situation throughout the venue, there was no shortage of fervor and and excitement at what was in store.  Once all the lovely reunions with friends, friendlies, and associates (After all, isn’t that one reason why we do this in the first place?) had occurred we scratched up a bit of real estate just to the left of the soundboard and settled in for a night of intensely good bluegrass music.

    The GSBG lads opened up the show with a perfect selection for the evening’s chilly temperatures:  “Cold Feet”.  Featuring Dave Bruzza on vocals the song gave every member of the band a chance to step out, getting further warmed up with each solo, already building the vivacity up in the theater towards an incredible show.  An intense and driving guitar and mandolin-heavy intro heralded the next song, the dark and mysterious “Last Winter in Copper Country” with Paul Hoffman taking lead vocals.  The middle breakdown was a standout feature of this one — Anders with some effects on his dobro and Paul sawing away on mando alongside.  Quite a lengthy ride, and a hell of a good one at that!  Afterwards, Dave was back up to the mic for “Letter to Seymour”, an obvious crowd favorite.  Lots of singing and dancing along to this madcap musical mania…so fast, so well-executed.  Mike Bont took this as a nice opportunity to shred his banjo up for us and damn, can that man play!  Fast pickin’ all around this band to be sure.  More Paul Hoffman you say?  Well, alright then.  How about a little “Dustbowl Overtures” for you?  And a very fine version of the song it was, too.  What a crooner we have in Paul, no?  Another fan fave was up with “Windshield” following “Dustbowl” and with Paul staying at the mic for more of that very crooning.  And the crowd went wild for this one.  Can’t say that I blame them with the sheer amount of energy this band puts into each and every song, each and every show.  Truly it is becoming more and more the case that any Greensky show you are able to catch puts you in a very lucky elite, indeed.  The caliber of their work and passion seems to know no bounds.  And they so readily and freely share that amazing electricity with their fans, each time nailing the mark dead center.  Tyler Grant (Grant Farm) joined the boys out on the stage for a couple of numbers, the first of which was the classic country sounding “Through the Trees”.  The addition of Tyler’s electric guitar to the lineup incorporated just the right amount of increased enthusiasm and vibrancy to build things all the more with the help of a musical friend and contributed even further to that classic country sound.  Mr. Grant and his guitar remained for “I’m Still Here”, a Bruzza lead, which was followed by rather big and bold “All Four” clocking in at 16:22.  Talk about bang for your buck with a band, right?  Another incredible Bont solo was one of the gifts to come from this monster piece of music.  Bruzza wasn’t to be outdone, however, and laid down his own superb jam immediately following.  So much good music happening all in one show!  Then Paul was up to slam down some mando madness in fine fashion which led right into some badass Anders love on dobro for us.  And then the slow, powerful central jam that gradually built and built and built to a powder keg at the ending?  Crazy good!!  But they weren’t done with this set yet!  How about a magnificent Phish cover closer?  And “Julius” to boot!  It.  Sounded.  Unbelievably good.  Seriously, no notes.  It was just extremely fun all the way around, a great dance party, and a perfect way to close down the first set.  Bravi, fellas!

Greensky Bluegrass and Tyler Grant

Greensky Bluegrass and Tyler Grant

    After a much-needed set break for all, they party was ready to resume.  And resume in full-force it did with Paul jumping up to the mic for “Just to Lie” which was peppered through with some top notch dobro licks from Mr. Beck and which featured a really fine solo from both Hoffman and Beck.  It’s as if each new time they showcase their various talents on their instruments you realize they are just that much better than before somehow.  Some kind of strange GSBG magic or bluegrass witchery, no doubt.  Then it was time for a little “Jaywalking” another song clearly favored by this Colorado audience which they took directly into “Just Listening” though a minor and spacey connecting jam.  Mike Devol threw down a really nice little bass solo for us during this one — always nice to hear a fat bass run.  Some hard drivin’, fast pickin’ was in store next with “Tarpology” not to mention some pretty trippy exploration as well, all at great speed.  Impossible to pick an instrumental favorite here as they all treated us to the very best of their playing in a round-robin fashion.  Like a musical buffet, our ears were delighted by timbre after timbre as we danced and enjoyed this night to the marrow.  This they managed to somehow take directly into a fantastic “Into the Mystic”, transitioning seamlessly and into such a lovely version of the song.  Just beautiful.  I think Van Morrison would be proud.  Then it was right back into “Tarpology” to finish up that wild ride.  Over 10 minutes of that wonderful weirdness later and it was time for “Pig in a Pen” with vocals by Dave Bruzza.  Mike Bont led this speedy number off with some kickass banjo setting the fast pickin’ tone.  And the rest of the boys were sure to pick up on that tone with some incredibly quick work on their own respective instruments.  Always impressive to see such acumen at such speeds.  “Forget Everything” came next down the line seeing Hoffman back up for lead vocals.  This was followed by a truly epic (shudder at the word) and extremely long 24:13 “Don’t Lie”.  Not a bad way to end a show, eh?  The band took their time, slowly building instruments and energy with this one, drawing it up and out, making it something very special.  Replete with “I Feel Like Bustin’ Loose” teases and “It’s Getting Hot in Here” quotes there was attitude a-plenty with this “Don’t Lie”.  And then they were right into the song proper, steaming along with Hoffman at the helm.  “I Feel Like Bustin’ Loose” teases permeated the remainder of the song, from the jam in the middle all the way to the electric ending breakdown.  It all finally wound to an end with the closing of the song, the last lyrics and notes fading away into the cheers and hollers of a very happy and musically-satiated crowd.  But, encore?  You bet your boots!  The band returned to the stage to delight us all with a light-hearted and bouncing “Frederico” bringing a smiling close to a supremely fabulous show.  Man, are these guys on top of their game!  Every time I see them they are just that much more incredible at what they do and this show was now exception.  Always makes me look that much forward to the next time.  How couldn’t it?

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