Michigan-based band, Greensky Bluegrass, plans to take audiences on a musical journey each time they hit the stage this summer, starting at Merryland Music Festival.
Ahead of their performance at Shinola’s 14th Street Block Party on June 25, Washington Life was able to sit down with Paul Hoffman (vocals/ mandolin) and Mike Devol (upright bass) of Greensky Bluegrass to talk about their visionary approach to auditory art. If you missed out on their recent set, they will be back in town for Merriweather Post Pavilion’s Merryland Music Fest on July 10.
In seeking to occupy musical space not limited to bluegrass, the band of five points to their name Greensky Bluegrass (Green-sky being the inverse of Blue-grass). Hoffman explains: “If we are everything bluegrass then we are also the exact opposite of it at the same time.” Devol acknowledges that having bluegrass in the name can be a blessing and a curse because, while it reaches a niche audience, it also inadvertently pushes away individuals who are quick to judge without giving a listen. “We’ve tried not to define ourselves more or less…and to just do what we do,” Devol says.
The only way to truly understand the identity crisis is by attending one of Greensky’s insanely energetic live performances. A growing fan base can vouch for the sound that seems to cross musical boundaries without forfeiting the roots of traditional bluegrass (they play only acoustic string instruments). An unexpected rock element of their sound becomes apparent in lengthy riffs that explode off the stage. “It’s a rock and roll concert.” Hoffman says “It’s loud enough so that you can chat with someone for a second or holler and scream if you want.” It’s this kind of noncommittal and adventurous attitude that has earned Greensky troves of new fans and followers as they hit the festival circuit this summer.
For those more inclined to jam out in the comfort of their own home, Greensky’s sixth album is slated for release in September. Hoffman and Devol describe their studio recordings and their live show as two different beasts, thus, requiring them to approach each accordingly. “The challenge of making albums is trying to harness the energy that we can create on stage in an improvisational moment with a crowd in front of you,” Hoffman says, “then bring that into the choices we have to make in a finalized kind of way in the studio.”
It is the improvisational aspect of their live show that aligns them with jam sensation Phish, who play for the fan experience as much as their musical enjoyment. Hoffman says Phish has been a huge influence on Greensky’s style explaining, “They provide an experience, they cultivate a community and they play music that all those people like too…It’s a really beautiful thing.” As the band forges new musical terrain, Devol says there is an underlying feeling that fans are growing and taking risks alongside them. In that way, you can guarantee a Greensky show will feel more like a giant party amongst friends than an average concert. Go see for yourself on July 10 or at any other stops on their tour.
Merryland Music Fest, July 9 – 10, single day ticket: $75, two day ticket: $125. For schedule details visit: www.merrylandmusicfest.com/schedule.