Greensky Bluegrass in Louisville, KY
Words & Photos by Rex Thomson
Getting a third chance to see Greensky Bluegrass this year, this time once again in my home town haunt the Hideaway Saloon , proves once again Louisville’s music scene is growing exponentially. Thankfully, it also gives me an opportunity to indulge my passion without the hardship of travel and camping. Hell, I managed to not get lost in the four mile drive to the club from my home! Score one for me! Beyond all else, music is a passion to me. I feel it in my soul, and it gives me the strength and the spirit to dance through my day. All the different styles and permutations, variations and combinations of structure and creation, the rich depth of which human musical expression has taken ensure that there is something for everyone. I now have a friend who is obsessed with polka music. Good for him. Not much digging all the accordion links I have been getting, but, like I said; I am glad he enjoys something. I deal with a lot of fans, and I see my favorite acts time and again. The numbers of shows seen pile up, and reach into the dozens, and the enjoyment grows all the sweeter. And, as I see the same acts again and again, I see some of the same faces. They seek the same fix I do, the uplift, the cosmic space jams that take them out beyond reality, where they can be lost in an infinite expanse of astro-psychedelia. Or maybe that’s just me. Surely, some folks just like a good time, but every band has its fans, And Greensky Bluegrass has theirs, myself being one, and Burk and Shellie being a couple more members of their devout.
The story of meeting Burk is one for another time, but since that day, I have been the biggest of fans of theirs. So glad am I to have met such fine individuals, I often feel the universe is trying to steer me right. A teacher and a carpenter, together they build the homes and minds of the world we live and, and do it well. Shellie teaches the next generation to do for themselves, and Burk, a master carpenter, turn functionality into art with the scratch of a pencil, the bowing of a saw, and the swinging of a hammer. Beyond their idyllic life on the river, they are music fans of the highest caliber, and, pertinent to the issue at hand, die hard Greensky Bluegrass fans. In fact there were on Greensky tour, a three show run of shows, the first of which fell on Burk’s Birthday. At Burk’s birthday show, there was fellow whose birthday was in fact the next day. At midnight there was a rousing round of Happy Birthday, and a round of shots for the changing of the Birthday guard. They were sending out updates from the shows, and hanging out and knocking back beverages with them throughout the weekend, and were even able to convince the band to stretch out a little beyond their regular song duration. A stellar cover of Cassidy (By some band whose name escapes me!) went well into the thirty minute range, and, allowed to breathe and live on its own become something more than just a fun bit of nostalgia, and turn into one of the biggest examples of why we three, and the rest of their ardent followers love the band. After they finished the truly epic reading of this venerable classic, Anders Beck, hyper talented dobroist and soon to be contributor to the site, attributed the song’s expansive length to The urging of Burk, and thus we all owe the carpenter for helping to build a great memory for us all.
Building memories is what a Greensky show is all about. Since I first encountered them that is all they have done. This was to be, by my count my tenth show of theirs, and each one has made itself an affair to remember. Seeing them has gotten to be like seeing old friends play, with the corresponding thrill of seeing people you care about do what they do well, and the appreciative response of the crowd. They drew a big crowd to the Saloon for their show, from doctors and lawyers, to drinkers and hoopers all the way to our aforementioned teacher and carpenter. All these folks walking their roads in life came together to hear Modern bluegrass done right and to dance; apparently on the ceiling. Opening up with a decidedly tongue in cheek version of “Dancing on the ceiling” Madonlinist Paul Hoffman takes his instrument through all its associated territories, fiercely strumming one moment, picking delicate lines the next, before unleashing furious runs of crazed energy. The middle section of the opening number held an extended “Eyes of the World” tease, and the spinning crowd whooped and whirled a wee bit faster afor’n’ it! Michael Arlen Bont, the bands Banjoist, to the forefront a little more than in previous shows, and took the songs to a more mountainous place, smiling eyes peeking reservedly out from under a ballcap. The picking he was pulling off was mighty fine, and his assertions were welcome indeed. The crowd was, as mentioned packed, and even contained a special guest or three! Bassist Mike Devol’s parent made the trip down from Indiana, along with one of his cousins. They were a vocal cheering section for their talented son, and he responded with his trademarked grin, and boyish charm, keeping the bottom end truly as low as it could go. Rounding out the players on our scorecard, Dave Bruzza brought his guitar and his bag of tricks and effects to the plate, and hit it out of the park with his uncanny ability to blend his acoustic stylings with just the right amount of flourish and filtration. Dave sang leads with the same attention he paid his playing, and would sway slightly as hey seemed to lose focus on anything that wasn’t his guitar, and making it ring true for us lucky attendees. Burk put it best, as Bruzza paused before a song to adjust his configurations on his array of pedals saying “Watch out, somethings fixin’ to go down!” And so it did. A reading of the song “Against the Days” had me moved, and actually welling up a little.
As mentioned, Anders Beck plays the Dobro, and does that lil thing remarkably well. Assuredly working his slide, stretching notes with the confidence of thousands of hours of practice, he seems to feed off his bands mates, and, most refreshingly off the crowds. I have been labeled a bit of a spacey individual, and that is perhaps a not unwarranted appellation. I do like to close my eyes and let the music wash over me. I will out stretch my hands and let the music flow around my fingers as if it were rushing water and I was standing in it, letting it flow all around me. And, as such a fan of these moments, I seek out the bands and players that take me there, and Greensky Bluegrass and Beck are definitely high on that list! Quite often I found myself frozen in place, cosmic antennae open and receiving the mind expanding, drawn out notes being culled from Beck’s Dobro, only to at last reopen my eyes from my little interior astral journey to find Beck smiling down on me from the stage, grinning in obvious satisfaction at reaching a fan. Smiles exchanged, he would go off into his own world, losing himself as I had moments earlier, in the joy of his craft!
After two full sets of the most pleasing blend of picking and grinning and consciousness changing cannonades of calamitous musical confections, the band called it a night sonically, but not socially, stepping down from the alter of the stage to hang with the fans, and share a barley pop with their constituency. I took full advantage of my opportunity to thank them, and discussed their various upcoming festival appearances, including their being signed to appear on the upcoming Jamcruise, the pinnacle of serious fandom. I told them that they would be lifers after their first visit, and was greeted with a smile. They informed me of their plans to put on a show so spectacular that they would be asked back again and again. After witnessing the performance I just had, and knowing the amount of festival appearances that were rapidly being added for this band that was truly coming into it’s own, I knew this bands prestige and reputation were only going to grow on by the day, and am pleased to see such big things in their future. They deserve it!