Americana Roots: Greensky Bluegrass

Americana Roots highlights the freshest and most original Americana and bluegrass from across the pond in the US.  It covers everything from brand-new, just out of the box bands, to cult favourites, to established acts who have yet to reach the UK’s shores.  Greensky Bluegrass with their modern take on bluegrass is helping a new generation rethink what is possible within the genre and find themselves at the forefront of the jamgrass movement.

Name: Greensky Bluegrass.

For Fans Of: Sam Bush, Trampled by Turtles, Infamous Stringdusters.

Hometown: Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA.

Band Members: Anders Beck (dobro, lap steel), Michael Bont (banjo), Dave Bruzza (guitar), Mike Devol (bass, vocals), Paul Hoffman (mandolin, vocals)

Website: https://greenskybluegrass.com/

Discography:  ‘Less Than Supper’ (2004), ‘Tuesday Letter’ (2006), ‘Five Interstates’ (2008), ‘Handguns’ (2011), ‘If Sorrows Swim’ (2014), ‘Shouted, Written Down, & Quoted’ (2016), ‘All For Money’ (2019)

Background: “A band with no drums,” says Paul Hoffman, mandolinist and singer, in Greensky Bluegrass, with a laugh.  Hoffman was trying to best explain his band’s sound, which is a mix of traditional style bluegrass and a more adventurous brand of roots-rock.  “I used to say that we are not a bluegrass band and try to convince people that there is more involved,” says Hoffman, “but we absolutely are a bluegrass band and can play the shit out of some bluegrass.  We just don’t do it all day.  It is not all we do.”  Hoffman continues, “Besides the pun wouldn’t make any sense without the second word in our name.”

Hoffman is right though, bluegrass is not all they do.  They are so much more than that.  While their music is built firmly up the traditional bluegrass sound with their line-up of banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, Dobro, and upright bass, the way in which they reinterpret that traditional sound is miles away from what Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs first created so many years ago.  While they have those elements that one would expect to find in traditional bluegrass, acoustic instruments, fast virtuosic playing, tight vocal harmonies, and instrumental solo breakdowns, it is what they do with those simple elements that sets the band apart from the past and points towards the future.

Since forming in 2000 in Kalamazoo, Michigan around the trio of banjo-picker Michael Bont, guitarist Dave Bruzza, and mandolinist Paul Hoffman, the band has seen steady, rapid growth.  They added bassist Mike Devol in 2004 and released their debut album, ‘Less Than Supper’.  In 2006 they released their second album, ‘Tuesday Letter’, and won the prestigious band contest at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.  They rounded out their line-up in 2007 when they added Dobroist Anders Beck.

Greensky Bluegrass have always tread the line between the old and the new, moving easily from a traditional tune such as “Working on a Building,” or ‘Pig in a Pen’, to Bruce Hornsby’s ‘King of the Hill’, Traffic’s ‘Light up or Leave me Alone’, or Phish’s ‘Chalkdust Torture‘, in their sets.  But it is in their songwriting, where Greensky uses inventive song structures, tasteful, melodic phrasing, and odd sonic textures to push the limits and boundaries of bluegrass and roots-inspired music.

What They Sound Like:

Author: Tim Newby

Author of books, writer of words, enjoyer of good times. Often found barefoot at a festival somewhere. 'Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin' Sound & Its Legacy' (2015), 'Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival! (2019)

2 thoughts on “Americana Roots: Greensky Bluegrass”

  1. Another great piece Tim, highlighting a band who may be unfamiliar to UK audiences but who deliver the goods. Sam Bush’s influence stretches far and wide.

    1. Thanks man! If you have the pleasure of catching them live (when we can do those types of things again!) make sure to do so. There live show is something else.

Leave a comment..

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.