Let’s establish this at the outset — Greensky Bluegrass may reference that old time country picking style in their handle, but they’re anything but old fashioned. Call it what you will—nu-grass, grassicana, Americana or any number of other terms concocted to describe the mix of classic and contemporary, Greensky’s music decidedly defies boundaries. Granted, the prominent place that banjo, mandolin and other arcane instrumentation finds in their sound may evolve out of reverence for their roots, but the arrangements take them well beyond any traditional template and into realms that are decidedly different and diverse
All For Money, their seventh studio album to date, confirms their determination to expand their parameters and make music that’s decidedly of their own invention. It’s not that the group — consisting of Michael Arlen Bont (vocals, banjo), Anders Beck (dobro, resophonic guitar), Dave Bruzza (guitar, vocals), Michael Devol (bass, vocals) and Paul Hoffman (mandolin, vocals) — have deserted their rustic roots entirely, but they have created a sound that’s incisive, inventive and further affirms their populist appeal. Now in their 18th year, the group has gained a reputation as festival favorites and developed a rabid following that eagerly anticipates each successive outing.
We recently spoke with Bont and asked him to offer his insights into the band’s fervent following and the unique elements that have made them so successful so far.
Greensky Bluegrass has developed a loyal legion of fans over the course of your career. How do you account for that diehard devotion?
It’s about the music as well as the community around it. It’s kind of this community that we unintentionally created by doing what we do. It’s really great.
You’ll be celebrated your 19th year in October. What has allowed the band to maintain its enthusiasm and continue to progress?
For us, it’s about keeping it fresh. It’s about trying to be more improvisational and then taking some risks. That means we’re not stuck playing the same songs. How many songs are in your current concert repertoire?
We probably have 1,000 songs we can choose from, although some of them we’ve only played once. But that’s what keeps the interest for us, the fact that we’re always trying to expand our catalog. We used to play a lot of bluegrass and played the songs pretty fast. So trying to fill up three sets of music with songs that are about 2 1/2minutes can be challenging.
How do you determine what you’ll be playing on a particular night?
Three of us come up with a setlist and with a flow, and then try to make it different every night. We have an idea of how we want things to go, but there are sections that are open to improvisation, so that keeps it interesting for us and for the audience.
Do you sometimes feel like you’re unfamiliar with the material when you haven’t performed it in awhile or very much at all? When do you have time to rehearse on the day of a show?
Most of the songs we generally know, and we do a rough run through during soundcheck, so we at least know how the chords go.