Photo by Tim Reese

To appreciate what Nick Forster and his team at eTown Hall in Boulder have achieved you only need to attend a live radio taping. From their humble beginnings 25 years ago recording at the Boulder Theater and at various venues around the country to today where they work in a world class performance hall, a fully equipped café and so much more. The building is wired for both sound and video with live streaming capability. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the house video crew over the last year. When I heard that Greensky Bluegrass was headlining the final live taping of 2016 I made it a point to be in attendance. The show also included a performance by Grand Ole Opry musician Elizabeth Cook and a community service award for indigenous climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.

By definition, eTown is a variety show. The format includes a headlining band with an interview, the eChievement Award and another band. The headlining band then returns and they usually close with an all-inclusive encore. It’s a two-hour performance for a one hour radio show. This season ending performance featuring Greensky Bluegrass was one for the record books. Over the course of their two ‘mini’ sets they got through a large portion of their latest album Shouted, Written Down and Quoted. After a short but flattering introduction from Nick, Greensky started the show with the Hoffman sung “Past My Prime.”

GSBG Set 1: Past My Prime, Room Without A Roof, Interview with Paul Hoffman, Run or Die

EC Set 1: Methadone Blues, Heroin Addict Sister, Interview with Elizabeth Cook, El Camino, Tabitha Tuder’s Mama, Straight Jacket Love

GSBG Set 2: Miss September, Living Over

Encore: Feelin’ Alright*

*w/ Greensky Bluegrass, The eTones, Elizabeth Cook & Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Dave Bruzza continued with a song he wrote for his wife, “Room Without A Roof.” Paul represented the group during the interview with Nick. They spoke on a wide range of topics from the band’s humble beginnings in Kalamazoo, the new album, their light show and working with producer Steve Berlin. Greensky has become known for intrepid jamming during their live performances and they did not hold back in that department at eTown. “Run or Die” was a hard plucking musical melee featuring some solid harmonization and tightly constructed solos. They left the stage with the promise to return.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is quite an impressive 16-year-old. He is both a climate activist and a musician. He is a founding member of the activist / music collective Earth Guardians and is currently suing the federal government in a landmark climate lawsuit. He spoke eloquently with Nick about his mission and his recent endeavors which included addressing the UN Assembly three times and an appearance on Real Time with Bill Mahr. He speaks for his generation and his activism is nothing short of groundbreaking.

Elizabeth Cook is one of the most fascinating and disarming performers I’ve had the pleasure of seeing onstage. She was at eTown in support of her new album Exodus of Venus. Her songs were personal and poetic with an emphasis on the narrative. Two songs “Methadone Blues” and “Heroin Addict Sister” felt like we were reading a page out Cook’s private diary. She plays with her heart on her sleeve and her viewers are left utterly endeared. She spoke in the interview about her time at the Opry, working with her producer and boyfriend Dexter Green on the new album and other work in television and radio. She is an accomplished individual and her music is authentic and original in a landscape of imitation.

Greensky returned to the stage for two more songs off the new album including a massive rendition of “Living Over.” This performance featured some amazing improvisation and solo work from all the members of the band. They ended the show with a huge clusterpluck that included Greensky alongside Nick and Helen Forster, Elizabeth Cook, The eTones, and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez improvising a hip-hop verse during a rendition of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright.” People were dancing in the aisles as the curtain closed on the show. Greensky is playing at a real peak right now. They are continuously innovating while still honoring the traditional style of bluegrass. They are unafraid to mix genres and toss in unusual covers. Fans in attendance and over the radio waves will certainly remember this performance at eTown.