Colorado’s Red Rocks Welcomed Greensky Bluegrass With Sold Out Show
Words and Photography by Jake Sudek
Published July 31, 2016
Ask any band out there what was the most memorable place they have ever played and one is sure to get a myriad of answers, but the one constant for any group that feels that have finally arrived where they wanted to be in the musical endeavor and the answer comes out in two simple words: Red Rocks. This hallowed ground with towering, acoustic monuments present the pinnacle of success in the world of musicians, and has been, maybe even since the dawn of time. For this group of road tested minstrels, the fact that Greensky Bluegrass had top billing, were playing to a sold-out crowd for a second night in Colorado, and had the infamous Leftover Salmon opening, nothing short of the “kids in a candy store” cliché would be appropriate to describe how they must have felt.
The house lights dropped and the gentlemen took the stage under violet white illumination to the thunderous anticipatory celebration of the audience. The men paused for a moment and soaked it all in and finally addressed the venue with a simple, “Good Evening.” After a short tuning, the lone impellent bass line of “Windshield” began. Following suit from the previous night, the audience wasted no time jumping in with Paul Hoffman, singing out the lyrics of heartache and uncertainty. Lifting the spirit and feet of the fans, the band switched gears completely and started up “Just To Lie,” a bluegrass styled tune with a boot-stomping pace, telling the tale of casual encounters, expectations, and honesty. With a key change, the song shifted and gave rise to the first jam of the night. Anders Beck took over with echoing dobro licks, lapping off the high red walls, while Hoffman sang the haunting “I told you” line continually.
Transitioning without pause into “The Four,” this casual number featured accompanying vocals by Mike Devol and soft, moving mandolin notes that produced smiles across the amphitheater. At close, the band took another opportunity to thank the audience for the “overwhelming feeling” they were experiencing looking up at the sea of being. “Worried About The Weather,” a probable reference to the Red Rocks clockwork rain that cooled the Salmon opener gave Dave Bruzzo an opportunity at the vocal reigns, producing strong voicing in both his uttered and rhythmic exploits. The jam that ensued here provided an angular dimension that seemed to make the venue swirl, leading into the appropriate “Time” by Pink Floyd, played in double time. This infused energy into the already excited masses and relit the faces of many. The solos were spot on, fun, and creative, and each were played back to back, shifting between fabricators without stumble or gap, even as the timing slowed for the final stanza.
Shifting again, Bruzza picked up the pace with the accelerant “Kerosene.” Returning to the microphone, Bruzza’s rhythms laid the groundwork for the longest jam of the set. This spectacle produced hard driving lines, rumbling chords, and a progression that was reminiscent of the building portion of the Grateful Dead’s “Let It Grow.” The barrage that unleashed pushed a silent fury that literally had the entire place listening and moving with intensity. The final crescendo sent an explosive roar of appreciation rolling across the monument. At this point, again, the band reached out to the crowd with well wishes and appreciation for being a part of such a special night, with friends, and with that, they welcomed out Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon. The five became seven and took a stroll down the road of a Herman penned tune about, and titled, “Woody Guthrie.” This song depicts a cry out to the folk legend for aid in these modern times. At one point, Herman even replaced Woody’s name with Bernie Sanders for a line. In perfect Salmon style, Vince shifted the tempo to a frantic pace and participated in a cover of Jimmy Martin’s “Hit Parade of Love.” This rendition revealed the amazing chops that these players possess, darting about and stopping on a dime, from support to solo, making it all look much too easy. As the men of Salmon left the stage, Beck took another opportunity, this time thanking everyone for selling out the venue and that in his wildest dreams he dreamed he would play Red Rocks, headlining to a sold out crowd. “Past My Prime,” a number off of the soon to be released new album, came in with its centering intro, Hoffman leading the pack, belting out the lyrics with strength and conviction. Albeit short in stature, this tune could certainly develop into a larger vessel in future undertakings. The closer of the set, “Living Over,” began in its usual high paced attribute and transitioned into a harmonic kaleidoscope, tantalizing every part of the inner child, as the band chased each others notes up and down scales while shifting the timing of the improvisation.
Set two kicked off with “Letter To Seymour,” a short but fast ode that brought the audience back into the bluegrass vein, assuring everyone that the band hadn’t lost any motivation during the set break. “In Control” is another Hoffman lead song that again reflects the emotion and depth that defines this band as unique. From here, Beck welcomed Andy Thorn from Leftover Salmon to the stage and with dueling banjo fury, “Can’t Stop Now” showcased blinding stringed exchanges between GSBG’s Michael Bont and Salmon’s Thorn through multiple runs, extending this standard into one of the longest tunes of the night. Equipped with a small ethereal vocal jam, the band took their opportunity for shout outs to the moms and dads of the band in attendance, followed by more energetic banjo hammering. The slow waltzing intro to “Jaywalking” quickly moved to the upbeat refrain and, verses completed, took a dark turn, devoid of structure, reconvening for a short, but motivated “Burn Them.” Upon completion, a bubbly version of “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone” included a seven-minute section of improvisation that had the multitude listening intently.
“Old Barns,” another feel good showpiece, was played solid and wistfully. The band shifted the tone of the show completely with the reggae-timed component “Fo Sho Uh Huh,” which saw Beck and band exchange playful banter, referencing Red Rocks as being “The Edge” and the players’ desire for the evening to never end, resulting in multiple crowd cries of concurrence, before transitioning seamlessly into “Demons.” Bruzza stepped up again and delivered his countrified vocal twang to “Wings For Wheels.” Post an introduction given by himself, Beck was called upon next to lead the band through “one of the two songs he sings on,” which was met with laughter and raucous applause. The tune, “Broke Mountain Breakdown,” was what one would expect from a name like that: arpeggios at breakneck speeds and rotations cycling in turn. About midway, the tune took a turn into a discoesque groove that laid a solid foundation for each member to get funky. As the smiles grew, Beck’s wah-wah effect was utilized to produce an obvious “Bathtub Gin” tease. Although short, the crowd called out in recognition, as they got down. Dwindling towards the end, Beck and Devol exchanged call and response descending lines, giving way to Hoffman taking the band on the emotional journey of Dylan’s “Forever Young,” filled with feeling as P-Hoff’s vocals echoed out over the night. Short and sweet, the band shifted back to ending of “Broke Mountain Breakdown” to end the set. Thanking the crowd one final time, Beck reassured fans that the feeling of love was real and that everyone in attendance had contributed to one of the most special moments in the band’s history. “Leap Year” gave the crowd the final opportunity for accompaniment, as the participants sang out the resounding “whoa, whoa, whoa” line as the band quietly played and eventually went silent for a moment to take in the amazing display of endearment. The tune finally ended and the night completed, the audience took one more run at the “whoa, whoa, whoa,” as the band walked from the stage.
In the end, it is easy to see why these men have achieved what they have. From tireless touring, a close connection to their fans, and their special brand of bluegrass, complete with tear jerking numbers and proficiency leaning towards the insane, it is no wonder why on this special weekend so many travelled from places far and wide and why these men, more like brothers, will continue this journey for many years to come.
For more information on Greensky Bluegrass, please visit their official website.