Greensky Bluegrass Red-hot in Atlanta

Article & Photos by Eric Rayburn

Rarely is an overnight success truly overnight. Bands work and toil in obscurity for years before hitting the right note that resonates with music lovers.

Greensky Bluegrass was founded in 2000 and won the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass band competition in 2006. These men are veterans of the road and of the studio. Now on tour in support of their new album “If Sorrows Swim” these Princes of Progressive Bluegrass are firing on all cylinders with a fun, energetic and interesting combination of originals and covers. The album was number one on Billboard’s Bluegrass chart last week and sits at number three as of Oct 1, 2014.

The recent show at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse on Sept 27 saw the quintet from Kalamazoo, Michigan apply bluegrass to such unlikely artists as Peter Tosh and OutKast, while playing their own originals they are known for.

Kicking off the evening was Brooklyn based, Swear & Shake. Led by the sweet vocals of Keri Spieler, they brought the crowd out of its seats with well constructed folk-rock rhythms.

Greensky started their first set with “Worried About the Weather,” an uptempo number from the new release. In all, six songs from “Sorrows” were performed. The first cover of the night was “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” the Wayne Walker tune made popular by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. The first set concluded with a nod to Georgia legends, The Allman Brothers with a smokin’ version of “Midnight Rider.” The song included an interlude with lyrics from “Ms. Jackson,” from Dirty South hip-hop stars OutKast’s 2000 album Stankonia (The duo was performing two shows over the weekend at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park across town). The crowd loved it and sang along to every word.

After a short set break, another old-school bluegrass tune, the Stanley Brothers’ “Pig in a Pen” started the second set. The band brought Kari Spieler for a duet with mandolinist/singer Paul Hoffman on “Forget Everything,” a song that could very well find itself on a movie or TV soundtrack. A blistering version of Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues” led into a 21-minute long version of “Don’t Lie” that included plenty of long-form improvisation as well as more OutKast lyrics, this time from “Hey Ya.” For the encore, Greensky brought out the whole of Swear & Shake for a group sing of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In.”

The tour continues through the Fall and includes stops at Southern Ground Festival in Charleston, SC and Suwanee Hulaween in Florida before heading West with support from the Dead Winter Carpenters. It concludes back home in Kalamazoo on November 28. If they come with driving distance, I recommend tying on your dancing shoes, getting in the car and seeing them as soon as you can.

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