Amid temps still hovering in the mid-90s and with echoes from not so distant thunder, Nashville's Rayland Baxter kicked off the show with a rather quirky, yet very entertaining set consisting of eight songs. Trying to label Baxter's musical style is very subjective to say the least, but for me it is just a nice blend of Americana with some edgy rock thrown in for good measure. Highlights included a distinct Beatlesque "79 Shiny Revolvers" and a catchy "Hey Larocco".
As throngs of anxious groove junkies solidified their spots inside the cozy confines of Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Greensky Bluegrass took center stage armed with their finely tuned instruments of mass musicianship. The five-piece ensemble from Kalamazoo, MI got things rolling with "What You Need" from their latest album All For Money (2019). The current lineup consists of Michael Arlen Bont (banjo), Dave Bruzza (guitar), Paul Hoffman (mandolin), Anders Beck (dobro), and Mike Devol (upright bass). While much of the vocal contributions come from Hoffman and Bruzza, all bandmates add their signatures along the way and are always aided by their loyal patrons enjoying the show.
Greensky Bluegrass is not your prototypical bluegrass band that adheres to a formula of simple traditional chord progressions and acoustic instruments. They are a creative collection of artists not afraid to explore new frontiers and incorporate innovation into their music. It is very easy to label the band as progressive bluegrass or jam band, but the fact is this band is much more complicated than that. Greensky Bluegrass morphs into whoever they want to be at any given moment on stage going from traditional to progressive to unconventional. How many bluegrass bands do you know that have an awesome light show that rivals that of Pink Floyd? Well, a scaled down version anyway.
"Collateral Damage", "Last Winter in Copper Country", and "In Control" were just a few of the highlights from the first set which lasted an hour. Even with the extreme conditions the energy level never subsided and even seemed to intensify as the first set progressed. Greensky Bluegrass was bringing it and the crowd was soaking it all in.
Upon getting a reprieve from the oppressive heat as the sun fell from the sky and cold beverages abound, Greensky Bluegrass found their way back on stage for a second stanza. Opening with "Lose My Way", the band once again showcased their versatility as they broke into the ending of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" mid-song. "The Four", "Less Than Supper", and "Wings For Wheels" were next on the docket as the second set was now full throttle.
At one point during an extended jam, I closed my eyes and got transported back in time to Santana's infamous Woodstock performance in 1969. While I know there were no bongos on stage or Carlos wailing away on his Gibson SG, the combination of mandolin chops and powerful dobro riffs sounded very similar to the aforementioned "Soul Sacrifice". Another highlight of the evening was a groove heavy cover of the Grateful Dead's "China Cat Sunflower" which induced an outbreak of widespread dancing at 8003 Regency Parkway.
Despite the extreme heat at Cary's Koka Booth Amphitheatre Friday night, Greensky Bluegrass brought out the "chill" factor as patrons danced and celebrated an evening of musical harmony and blissful euphoria.
Review by Ike Riddick
Photos by Jerry Friend