BUFFALO, NY – September is a wonderful time of the year here in WNY. As fall descends upon us, Buffalo Bills fans suit up for another football season and a shot a the playoffs. Universities and colleges are opening their doors, welcoming back students for another year of learning. Local sportsmen are gearing up for the impending Salmon/Steelhead run, while others have their eye on deer season. And for a select few of us, it’s that time of the year when a host of musical acts descend upon this great region.
The Town Ballroom has long been at the epi-center of Buffalo’s music scene. Consistently over time, they have done an outstanding job in securing a variety of artists and bands of all music genres. On September 10th, devotee’s of bluegrass got a real treat when Greensky Bluegrass came to town in support of their latest release “If Sorrows Swim.”
Greensky Bluegrass has an extremely talented cast of musicians that delivers tremendous instrumentals melodies paired with soul-stirring vocals and blended harmonies. This quintet is composed of Paul Hoffman (Mandolin/Vocals), Dave Bruzza (Guitar/Vocals), Anders Beck (Dobro), Mike Devol (Upright Bass/Vocals), and Mike Arlen Bont (Banjo/ Vocals). Their ability to perform bluegrass with such crisp precision is just amazing, but it doesn’t stop there. The group will incorporate jazz/ rock moments to the melodies before transitioning into their brilliant expansive jams and then transitioning it back to string-band territory before you realized what happened.
On this night, Greensky Bluegrass was scheduled to perform two sets which the bluegrass junkies in attendees were extremely excited about. Strolling onto the stage to the cheers and whistles of the audience just shortly after 8pm, they graciously thanked everyone for attending before starting off the night with “Windshield” from their latest offering. An excellent choice for an opener that employed a haunting melody with powerful soaring vocals that reached out and grabbed the crowd immediately right from the start. They followed this up with “The Radio Blues” a song that features fevers picking, brilliant instrumental interchange and rich accompanying vocals. From then on it was a full on dance party that this crowd couldn’t get enough of.
The foundation of this band sound is centered around the powerful resonating bass lines Devol delivers and Bruzza’s crisp and rhythm guitar. Add in Hoffman’s sensational plucking of his mandolin with Bont’s complex feverous banjo playing and Beck’s effect-laden dobro effectively combine to form a seamless tapestry of bluegrass laden sound. And let’s not forget the incredible well crafted lyrics, vocals and harmonies that not only solidifies their songs but makes them a complete package.
Greensky Bluegrass first set proceeded to amaze the audience with an array of sensationally crafted songs. These songs featured instrumental melodies mixed in with intense raw solos and blended vocals that created an infectious sound that the audiences didn’t want to end. As the set continued on, the band appeared to be in good spirits and this ravenous crowd consumed each song like a delectable tasty treat. Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing” was one such morsel. Other highlights included “The Four”, “Just Listening”, and “Worried About the Weather” all from their new album “If Sorrow Swim.” This well-played first set finally came to an end after a little more than an hour when they ended with the song “Don’t Lie.”
After the set break, Greensky Bluegrass strolled back onto the stage and picked up were they left off. After briefly tuning their instruments, they proceeded into “Cold Feet,” an uplifting song with catchy instrumentals, vocals and harmonies. Full of energy, they went with “In Control,” which had soft surging melodies infused with eloquent vocals that were wondrously rich in sound. Throughout the second set, with fingers flying effortlessly across their strings instruments, each band member blazed a path for the others to follow. And follow they did, at times individually taking the lead and steering the group along this powerful and explosive bluegrass journey. They utilized a broad range of picking, melodic meandering or they just plainly shredded away with incredible tenacity while following along in the songs instrumental melody. Their collaborative spirit allows each members to thrive within the songs framework and is clearly reflected in their improvisational approach as they progressively explore new possibilities within this genre.
The second set continued on with several more inspiring numbers which included, “Last Winter in the Copper Country, “Foggy Mountain Special” and “Bringin’ In The Georgia Mail.” All moving songs that keep the audiences energy up and had them calling out for more. Before calling it a night, Greensky Bluegrass elected to go with four songs off “If Sorrows Swim.” The band then performed “Forget Everything”, “Demon”s, “Wings For Wheels”, and “Kerosene. These were superb songs with tantalizing instrumentals and accompanying vocals. But this was not the end, Greensky Bluegrass had one more rousing number to perform. For the encore they choose to go with Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” An over the top version that was gritty and raw in delivery and which took the crowd on one more joyous ride.
This undoubtedly was a brilliant night of bluegrass that had magical moments as Greensky Bluegrass locked into their contagious groove, creating a communal atmosphere the audience relished in from beginning to end. The good ol’ folks of Buffalo were given 2 1/2 hours of stellar music that featured 24 songs, including 10 from their latest release. Undoubtedly, these are talented musicians that have come together to form a bluegrass group that goes beyond the traditional constraints of the genre and opens the door to a new way this music can be delivered. This isn’t a band that shouldn’t be dismissed or overlooked based on the music they play, I highly recommend catching one of their shows. True masters of their craft, they will most certainly leave you stunned and amazed by their performance.
Intro, *Windshield, The Radio Blues, Bottle Dry, *The Four, Money For Nothing, *Just Listening, *Worried About the Weather, Old Barns, Send Me Your Address, Don’t Lie
Cold Feet, *In Control, Last Winter in the Copper Country, Better Off, I’m Working on a Building, *Burn Them, Foggy Mountain Special, Bringin’ In The Georgia Mail, *Forget Everything, *Demons, *Wings For Wheels, *Kerosene
Encore: Dancing in the Dark
*-From latest release “If Sorrows Swim”
Here is a link to the audio recording made by Seth Nochajski & Keith Januszak which can be found on archive.org.