Greensky Bluegrass grows, blossoms, even has time to relax

Tahoe Onstage
Greensky Bluegrass plays for a sold-out Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room on Friday.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Clare Foster

Editor’s note: Here’s a review of Friday’s show at Crystal Bay.

Here’s a band that has paid its dues and can now stop and smell the bluegrass.

Greensky Bluegrass, whose roots go back to after-parties in the Crystal Bay Casino, has blossomed into one of the most popular bands in its field. Two-week tours have replaced the monthlong varieties because less pristine show opportunities have been weeded out.

“It’s nice now to maybe have achieved a level where we don’t have to be the hardest working band in bluegrass anymore,” bassist Mike Devol said. “That just gives us space to breathe so that all the work we do is that much more rewarding for us and our fans.”

Tahoe Onstage
Greensky stagelight: Mandolin player Paul Hoffman.

A decade ago, in 2007, the band from Kalamazoo, Michigan, played a Red Room show following Yonder Mountain String Band’s performance in the Crystal Bay Casino’s larger Crown Room. It returned later for a stand-alone show in the Red Room before becoming the headlining band in the Crown Room, which it has played so many times Devol can’t even count them.

Coincidentally, Yonder’s Ben Kaufmann sold his Eminence bass, which can be broken down, to Devol after Greensky began to fly to shows rather than drive.

Greensky harvested success with a simple formula.

“There’s no way foresee or to even hope for what we’ve achieved because you never know what that looks like,” Devol said. “When you’re getting started, all you know is that you love playing music and that you’re playing music you believe in and you hit the road with your boys, hoping that it’s going to work out long enough for you to hit the road again.”

The band includes Paul Hoffman on mandolin, guitarist Dave Bruzza, banjo player Michael Arlen Bont. It became a quintet, and the lineup has remained the same, with the addition of dobro player Anders Beck in 2008.

It released its sixth studio album, “Shouted, Written Down, & Quoted” on Oct. 7, 2016. It was produced by the esteemed Steve Berlin, who plays with Los Lobos and has produced bands from many different genres, including “Timber Rocker” Scott Pemberton, a Lake Tahoe favorite.

“You could almost predict what a bluegrass producer was going to suggest but to have somebody from the outside, he had a lot of interesting insights for how to rework our songs, arrange lyrical parts and his knowledge of amps and gear and tone clips is very impressive,” Devol said. “It was awesome working with Steve and we all learned a lot.”

In a sold-out show promoted as “Road to Hangtown,” Greensky Bluegrass played Friday in the Crown Room. Hot Buttered Rum, aka “The Butter Boys,” opened, and Reno’s Dainesly hosts the Red Room after-party.

Afterwards, Greensky’s itinerary includes a show at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which sold all of its nearly 10,000 seats nearly a month ago. It returns to the Sierra Nevada next month for the aforementioned Hangtown Music Festival before it will make its annual gathering of bluegrass and jam community fans and bands at the Strings & Sol festival on the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

Greensky’s sound has been described as progressive bluegrass, new grass and rock-styled bluegrass. But its popularity makes such terms meaningless.

“We’re not attempting to play traditional bluegrass or any other sort of branded thing,” Devol said. “We just feel the best thing we can do is to be true to our sound. We’re not stressing about defining ourselves anymore.

Tahoe Onstage
Anders Beck on the dobro at Crystal Bay.
Tahoe Onstage
For the second year in a row, Greensky Bluegrass sells out the Crown Room.

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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