Greensky Bluegrass Jammed To Friends, Family, Fans At Historic Colorado Show
Words and Photography by Jake Sudek
Published July 26, 2016
For anyone who is a lover of jamgrass, Colorado was the place to be this past weekend. Greensky Bluegrass brought their version of this genre to both the Boulder Theater and Red Rocks amphitheater, swinging the spectrum from intimate to the titanic. This would mark a special milestone for the band. It would be their maiden voyage as the headliner on the red revered grounds, and their friends and family did not disappoint, turning out with such support to sell out both venues. This is another accomplishment not easily achieved, but well understood once the band is heard.
The Boulder Theater, an 800+ capacity venue equipped with balcony and a tiered central dance floor, was the perfect way for the band to welcome its kinfolk. As the band took the stage, roars of welcoming reciprocation lit the room, and faces were filled with smiles. As this was to be an historic weekend for the band, family members flew in from far and wide to celebrate their achievement. One relative particularly stood out, Mike Devol’s grandmother. Coming in 89 years young, she not only made her way to the front row, but also stayed there the entire night, all the way through the encore, leaving only to be with her grandson at set break. Grandma, her real identity protected, even had her own entourage made up of two of her daughters, and two granddaughters, who all braved the rail throughout the evening. It was easy to see the pride and joy in her eyes for the success of her grandson and his band mates, and shared with everyone lucky enough to be around her, her own stories of seeing the band on multiple occasions, including the Ryman last week. Her smile never faded and she danced the entire night, from start to finish, on the rail, living the dream. Go Grandma!
The first set kicked off with “Lose My Way,” a laid-back warm-up tune with nice harmonies, and executed without flaw. “Take Cover” took the beat up a notch, but was played with a modest tone as well. Technically, the tune was performed without exception, but fell to the quieter side improvisationally. This vein continued with “Can’t Make Time,” delivered in reserved fashion, but sincerely heartfelt. At this point it appeared that the band was enjoying the audience sing-along for the opening frame of songs. “Train Junkie” bookended the first cover of the night, Billy Joel’s “Big Shot,” which pulled in even the casual listener to the continued audience vocal accompaniment. It was apparent by this time that the band was playing conservatively, possibly in an attempt to leave plenty of gas in the tank for the second set, as well as the second night that still lay ahead. “I’d Probably Kill You” continued the feel good journey and everyone seemed to be enjoying the ride. A short rendition of the Irish styled jig “Blood Sucking Friends” led into the 16+ minute closer of the set, “All Four.” The band played this one with a raised level and saw rounds of soloing from each of the quintet, while modulating between quieter sections and raucous outpourings. Content and full of smiles, the band departed the stage for intermission, as the audience thanked them with attentative applause and joy.
The second set opened with the intro portion of “Don’t Lie,” a gritty, boot-stomping jaunt, filled with dissonant chords and lilting tonalities, and set the tone for what would be an epic conclusion to this first night of celebration. Transitioning quickly into “Bring Out Your Dead,” the audience was enveloped in the depths of this dark tune. Presenting echoing, haunting lines, vocally and musically, many swayed, eyes closed, to the first taste of psychedelic swirl served from the stage. This tune’s final dronings laid it to rest while the band took a breath. “No Idea” was the jumping off point for a sandwich of familiar ingredients, easily recognized by any musical appreciator, and further propelled audience participation.
“No Idea” transitioned into the second cover of the night, The Beatles’ “Help!,” and was met with acceptance. This upbeat version got the crowd moving and singing. Short and sweet, the iconic number was met by another progeny of the world’s most famous band, “A Day In The Life.” Executed perfectly, and in bluegrass style, it kept the smiles coming. It was obvious at this point that the night was truly about an evening with friends, rather than showcasing and trying to convert listeners to their mode of operation. It contained the cacophonous mid-section that so many in the jam scene look forward to from the opening notes. It’s end shifted back into the intro riffs of “Don’t Lie,” and posed a shout-out to one of the bands that has played “A Day In The Life” consistently in modern times, and has obviously had an influence on the stringed quintet: Phish. As the “Don’t Lie” riff resounded, the familiar Esquandoles – spike lyrics from Phish’s “Run Like An Antelope” were exchanged between Hoffman and Beck for only a brief moment, infusing a bit of energy that revealed and honored the cross-over appreciation for the two bands and their congruous fan bases. As the riff flittered out, the band got back on the Beatles’ train with a spirited rendition of “Get Back,” propelling the audience into a frenzy, played fiery fierceness and acceleration.
“Beauty and Pain” gave everyone the chance to breath and enjoy this emotional tune with its warm and honest meanderings. Although no tears were seen, it is easy to see how this song would easily move some to emotion with its profound invocation. Ending softly and sweetly, the familiar sounds of “Don’t Lie” returned, this time with the first stanza of the lyrical portion. Slowing and softening, the tune shifted with a quiet interlude into “What Happened to Jim?,” a song reverberating an angular dimension, further accentuated by delayed effects produced by each member as they took turns at the helm. Coming to a quiet close, the next song started off with an unknown, but familiar building riff until the first stanza revealed the Jerry Garcia famous “Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox,” another shout out to a legacy that obviously has contributed to the influence of these men. It produced more smiles and fueled the band through this ten-minute rendition. This version would have made any member of the Grateful Dead proud and tied the strings between the past, the present, and the long future of this band, as the audience continued its quiet aerobic exercise of dancing and exchanging glances of joy between each other and the band. The song wound into an improv jam, retaining the head, until the tune shifted back to “Don’t Lie” and contained a “Norwegian Wood” tease and a full 12 minutes of musicality before hitting the second and final stanza of “Don’t Lie” to close out the set.
The minstrels returned to the stage for a double encore, starting with “Yellow Eyes.” A pleasurable tune with a warm embrace, sung with conviction. The parting gift was the upbeat track “Frederico.” With calypso timing, this song again showed the band’s diversity and obvious love of music above genres.
In the end, a few things were apparent. This band loves what it does and it does it well. The fans have discovered a group of genuine friends, between each other and those who appreciate their ability. Each member of this band is stand-alone fantastic and as a sum, brings an energy that is appreciable by anyone who would soak in what they are projecting. It seems that the days of playing smaller venues may be numbered for this group so to catch them in this intimate setting, on such a personal weekend, was a treat. It may eventually form into one of those stories of legendary performances that are passed on from one generation of fans to another. This can be stated in earnest as there is no doubt that Greensky Bluegrass is here to stay, and to play for as long as there are stages and rooms to fill.
Greensky Bluegrass, The Boulder Theater Boulder, CO. 7/22/2016
Set 1: Lose My Way, Take Cover, Can’t Make Time, Train Junkie>Big Shot>Train Junkie, I’d Probably Kill You, Blood Sucking Friends, All Four
Set 2: Don’t Lie [intro]>Bring Out Your Dead, No Idea>Help!>A Day In The Life>Don’t Lie intro>*Get Back Beauty And Pain, Don’t Lie>What Happened To Jim?, Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox%>Don’t Lie
Encore: Yellow Eyes, Frederico
* w/Run Like An Antelope references
% w/Norwegian Wood tease