Ive often spoke about how I grossly underestimated bluegrass in the past. Ever since then, it seems to have continued it’s resurgence tenfold. Even acts like Billy Strings have started to sell out entire arenas tens of thousands in capacity. Resurgance may not even be the right way to put it. Perhaps Bluegrass music is as large as it has ever been.
Greensky Bluegrass, another notable act in the bluegrass scene, took to the stage at The Palace Theater in St. Paul for a night of foot stomping music this past Friday. The band’s lineup includes Paul Hoffman (mandolin, vocals), Dave Bruzza (guitar, vocals), Michael Arlen Bont (banjo), Mike Devol (upright bass, vocals), and Anders Beck (dobro, vocals).
The show opened with Daniel Donato, who returned to St Paul and wowed the crowd with his guitar skills. Donato is not new to St. Paul, but likely is new to the larger stage of the Palace. His high energy act did help set the tone for Greensky, albiet more of a electric tone. Donato’s set was the loudest ive ever heard an opening act at the Palace, which is good thing – helping to drown out the talkative crowd that seems to plague openers here in the past. In part, it was due to the mix. But also the stratospheric peaks his songs took. Opening acts typically dont spend ten minutes jamming on a song. But Donato knows what he’s doing. It was awesome to see him finally in a theatre like the palace, and even more awesome to see the crowd that came just to see him. However, I cant recall the last time i was this excited for an acoustic act to follow.
Greensky Bluegrass then took the stage, opening with “Wheel Hoss,” a fast-paced instrumental that showcased their impressive instrumental abilities. The band then moved into “New & Improved,” featuring strong vocal harmonies and a catchy melody. “We’re happy to be here” said Anders Beck, tuning between songs. “We’re also happy to just.. Be!” he smiled. “Who else is happy to just be?” prompting those around me deep in inebriants to cheer, and then question their state of existence. The setlist also included “Train Junkie,” an uptempo foot-stomping tune, and “Hit Parade of Love,” a crowd favorite that had the audience singing and dancing along. The band closed out the first set with “Ain’t No Bread in the Breadbox,” a classic bluegrass tune that showcased their traditional roots, while also welcoming a electric approach, with the band welcoming Daniel Donato back onstage to sit in with his telecaster.
The second set kicked off with “Handle with Care,” featuring tight vocal harmonies and a driving beat. Other uptempo tunes included “Grow Bananas,” a playful and humorous song that Paul Hoffman joked “Is about making babies. We hope you make some tonight”, and “All for Money,” a high-energy song that had the audience tapping their toes. The band closed the night with “Bone Digger,” a song that showcased their impressive musicianship and left the audience wanting more.
The show served as a testament to the evolving nature of Bluegrass music, which has transcended its origins in juke joints and honkey tonks, and perhaps even its Appalachian roots. The band made light of their early days playing in Michigan bars surrounded by hay bales, highlighting the stark contrast to their current setup, complete with sophisticated lighting, gobos, and stage design that certainly is a far cry from the hay bales. But, the songs are all the same. At the end of the day, to a bluegrass purist, isn’t that what matters most?