TMU was on hand at the alternative bluegrass group’s first of two shows at the Anthem
A Greensky Bluegrass (GSBG) show takes the genre of mountain music to an almost ethereal plane.
Song titles seemed not to matter, as the group rode the crying mandolin and guitar waves from one song into the next. The pensive numbers “Reverend” and “Until I Sing” gave way to the jumpy “Send Me Your Address.”
Singer and mandolinist Paul Hoffman looks ever the part of an Appalachian picker: long hair and woolly beard. But don’t let the unkempt appearance fool you: several times at the Anthem in DC on Friday night (Feb 9th), it felt as if his mandolin—or any of the other four members’ instruments—would go alight from the ferocity of their playing.
Some pyro would hardly be a surprise for a group that has attained the ability to sell larger venues in part due to their elaborate light show. The goal is noble: much like country stars did in the 90’s GSBG wants to take bluegrass from sawdust floors and respectful listening rooms to the rowdy masses.
Another artist sharing the goal of mainstreaming bluegrass is Molly Tuttle. Performing her first show since winning the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album last week for City of Gold, Tuttle opened the show and joined GSBS for a hefty portion of their first set. Tuttle’s piercing voice and dexterity on the guitar filled the cavernous box that is the Anthem, and she did it mostly solo. Two GSBG members joined her in the middle of her 16-song, hourlong set to round out her sound.
Baltimore rock fixture Cris Jacobs made an appearance as the surprise guest in the second act. The former member of local band The Bridge got his start in bluegrass music.
GSBS has been at the forefront of a movement called “jamgrass,” a bluegrass group that extends their songs into jams. Several times throughout both sets, Greensky would start a straight bluegrass song and the sound would slowly morph. All of a sudden these mountain men’s instruments had a crunch to them that echoed Dwayne Allman and Dickey Betts. Or they’d prolong a funky groove that would make the Doobie Brothers proud.
Following along would be the lighting director. This show is played without click tracks synced to lighting cues. This means the dude at the light board had to play it like the sixth instrument of the night—making the lights dance to the banjo beats.
This is a kind of bluegrass that has attracted a hipster crowd, rather than the rural folk typically drawn to your Rhonda Vincent AKUS-type acts. But no matter: they still threw their hair back and listened intently. Greensky Bluegrass is proof that the experience of bluegrass remains universally the same, whether on a front porch or on DC’s Wharf: to gather ‘round and pick and sing.