On Friday evening, fans of the unconventional Greensky Bluegrass packed the Anthem in DC’s Wharf on the Potomac River to for the first show of a two-night stand. In January, Greensky released a new studio album, All For Money, to critical acclaim, and launched a national tour to support the album.
Taking the stage at 7:30, 28-year old opener Billy Strings, who, like the members of Greensky, hails from Michigan, performed a dynamite opening set to begin the evening. Greensky went on to perform two full sets of music, more than 20 songs, with ample time dedicated to improvisation. The full night of music stretched to nearly four hours, the house lights coming back on at just before 11:30.
As a fantastic lightshow, perhaps the best I’ve seen, beamed out over the crowd, a spirit of community and good vibes prevailed in the venue. After the fifth song of the first set, “Do It Alone,” the band called out, “You don’t have to do it alone! We can do it together!”
The audience drew heavily from the ranks of the Deadhead and jam band community, many sporting tye-dyed shirts and bushy, Jerry Garciaesque beards. Fans of Greensky likely know the link here, that, before turning to the electric guitar, Garcia played the banjo; there’s a lot of bluegrass and Americana undercurrents in the Grateful Dead. Greensky is a bluegrass band that, by way of using effects on their acoustic instruments, and sometimes even using electric instruments, has a lot of rock undercurrents in its music. Late in the second set, Greensky went into straight-up rock mode, playing Pink Floyd’s “Time” and “Breathe” from Dark Side of the Moon straight through.
While Greensky gets criticized for this deviation from pure acoustic bluegrass, they paid their respects to tradition Friday evening. The band declared, “It ought to be a national holiday, Del McCoury’s birthday,” and played his classic song, “Beauty of My Dreams.” They also acknowledged their roots in progressive bluegrass, playing New Grass Revival’s “Can’t Stop Now.”
The trio of guitarist Dave Bruzza, mandolinist Paul Hoffman, and banjo player Michael Arlen Bont founded Greensky Bluegrass in Michigan in 2004. They released their debut album, Less Than Supper, in 2004, and bassist Mike Devol joined later that year. Winning the band contest at the 2006 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Greensky secured a main stage act the following year. They also released their second album, after which dobroist Anders Beck joined the band. Playing with major bands and at large festivals, Greensky has grown its following to its current position as one of the largest-drawing bluegrass acts.