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Greensky Bluegrass: An All Good Music Festival preview at Birdy's

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  • Jamie VanBuhler

Birdy’s is an interesting concert venue in that sometimes it seems too big for its own good. Middle-of-the-week shows draw 30 people on a good night, always leaving the illusion of a sparsely populated club. Occasionally, Birdy’s staff will pull the tables and chairs to the front of the large room to fill the open space in front of the stage and create a more intimate setting. To my dismay, this was not the case last Wednesday.

I watched local bluesy jam/folk band Waldemere Revival play a stripped down acoustic set while sitting a significant distance away from the band, wondering why we weren’t seated closer to the performers. Guitarist and lead vocalist Steve Martin fronted the band from a chair positioned center stage. His voice was both gentle and firm; simultaneously familiar and unique. The harmonica, played by Corey Flick, is what keeps Waldemere from being classified as strictly bluegrass or strictly folk. Flick’s harp brings a touch of soul to their sound, inciting passion in both the band and their audience.

When Greensky Bluegrass strapped on their instruments and prepared to perform, the dance floor flooded with fans before the first note had been played; I quickly understood why tables and chairs had been kept at the back of the room. Festival gear decorated the bodies of those twirling in front of the stage; long dresses, tie dye shirts, moccasins, and patchwork clothing were abundant. From start to finish, the crowd never dwindled.

With a recent surge in summer music festivals, a new hybrid of genres has created a niche for jam-grass bands who combine the customary instruments of bluegrass with the impulsive instrumentation of jam and rock bands. It seems that Greensky Bluegrass, however, has done it the other way around. The band, who boasts an impressive list of multi-instrumental experience with a number of previous projects, produce bluegrass music in its truest and purest form.

The first of two sets was comprised mostly of mid-tempo, traditional bluegrass. Bodies be-bopped to the steady tunes while the band showcased their collective musical genius. Giving each member a chance to solo and trading off on vocal responsibilities, Greensky left no doubts in anyone’s mind of their ability to perform and entertain. Bare feet roamed the dance floor and a couple of exceptionally active fans galloped in figure eights through the audience.

Not long into the second set, I found myself asking, “Who is this band? And where did they come from?” Suddenly, it was as if the five-piece had wanted to first establish their musical foundation in bluegrass, and then say, “Oh, by the way. We can melt your face, too”- a true reward for those who stayed for the remainder of the show.

After a long, mesmerizing, tripped-out jam, Greensky seamlessly transitioned into a moving cover of “When Doves Cry” that seemed to last an eternity. Back to a bluegrass state of mind, their unique rendition of the Prince classic was yet another gift bestowed to Indy fans for hanging around until the end.

“They took a complete 180 with that last song,” I said to my friend as we exchanged looks of disbelief and awe.

“180?” he questioned. “More like 900.”

With six shows on their schedule in the remaining nine days until the All Good Music Festival, Greensky Bluegrass proves they are not only a band of extreme musical aptitude, but of extreme endurance as well. Although 2010 will be the band’s first appearance at the festival, they are continuously mentioned on the “must-see” list of those attending All Good next week. I personally can’t wait for my second dose of Greensky Bluegrass- this time from the top of Marvin’s Mountain.

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