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The City Journals

REVIEW: Not just bluegrass, but ‘newgrass’ delights Red Butte crowd

Jun 29, 2019 03:03PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

A bluegrass and “newgrass” fusion band from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Greensky Bluegrass is comprised of what seems like all front men: Michael Bont/banjo; Paul Hoffman/mandolin; Mike Devol/upright bass; David Bruzza/guitar; and Anders Beck/dobro.

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected] 

When you hear the name of the band alone, you know you are in for poetry.

Greensky Bluegrass delivered on the poetic promise of its name, to the delight of a packed venue at Red Butte Garden Ampitheatre.

The five-person band hailing from Kalamazoo, Michigan and comprised of banjo, mandolin, dobro, guitar and upright/traditional bass players displayed considerable technical skills, on-stage camaraderie, and the joy of being at Red Butte.

In addition to paying off the poetry, Greensky Bluegrass also lived up to its name in terms of its musical core—bluegrass.

However, the nearing 20-year-old troupe is also devoted to genre blending and breaking, choosing at will to cover iconic rock legends and to “keep things real” by, literally, never doing the same show twice.

“Around dinner time,” band promoter Dave Weissman informs, the band scrawls out the musical agenda for each night’s show.

Red, Green and Blue

Greensky Bluegrass had an inspired dinner, before playing Red Butte, Thursday, June 27.

The band’s first set, virtually all their originals, with just a few exceptions, gave “Campers” (how the band refers to its fans) what they came for, in terms of the most current music (2019’s “Collateral Damage”) back to some classic Greensky Bluegrass (2004’s “Stop That Train”).

While GSBG enjoys genre-bending, the Red Butte audience seemed to enjoy every bend. Those newer to the band, perhaps, did not recognize what they may consider “bluegrass” until the band’s third number and oldest song in the set—“Stop That Train.” The rest of the show? Perhaps more “newgrass” in terms of bluegrass-fusion.

The performance of “Collateral Damage” was definitely inspired. The song was benefitted by the band’s plucking the very “smoky” fiddler Jake Simpson from the opening band, The Lil Smokies, and bringing his furious fiddle to the mix.

The “Steppin’ in It” cover married Bob Marley with bluegrass, getting anyone not already standing, firmly committed to their feet.

Red, Green and Blue, Part Deux

After a full first set, in what Red Butte personnel at the door were wrong about—“This is going to be an early show”—Greensky Bluegrass turned up the volume on its music-fusion message. The stage lighting seemed almost bluegrass-psychedelic or even glam-classic, as the band geared into a more rock-infused set.

As with the first set, the band liberally plucked from its nearly two decades of music-making, finding space to throw in a Springsteen tribute toward the end—“Dancing in the Dark.” GSBG likes to give a nod to Bruce, recently closing another show with its bluegrass-vibing “Atlantic City.”

The Lil Smokies: firing up the stage for Greensky Bluegrass

Salt Lake City indeed loves Greensky Bluegrass. However, their love for Montana-hailing opening band The Lil Smokies is definitely in the same league. The Lil Smokies exuded star power to not just open, but carry a show themselves.

It is often hard to find a “front man” in the all-male band. They all seem like front men, equally glamming for cameras and just having a blast on stage.

“We love it here! You should, too. You probably already do.”

It was said by one of the Lil Smokies. Do not know which. But, they will be back in Salt Lake this fall.