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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.


Grateful Grass and Grateful Gospel: Making festival mornings brighter

Article & Photos by Eric Rayburn

Mornings at most music festivals are usually reserved for nursing hangovers, struggling to find coffee or trying your best to sleep in, despite the noise your neighbors insist on making. The organizers at this years Lockn’ Festival did their best to make mornings a bit brighter. At 11 am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday Fredricksburg, Virginia’s own Keller Williams opened the day with special sets of Grateful Dead inspired bluegrass.

“The Lockn’ shows were super fun,” Williams said. “I rarely get a chance to go to festivals for more than five hours at a time so that was a real treat.”

Friday and Saturday saw Williams’ Grateful Grass perform while Sunday morning he took the festivarians to church with a performance by Grateful Gospel.

This version of Grateful Grass consisted of Williams on guitar and vocals along with Jeff Austin (mandolin and vocals), Keith Moseley of The String Cheese Incident (bass) Jason Carter of the Travelin’ McCourys (fiddle) and Jay Starling on dobro. An earlier version saw Michael Kang of String Cheese join Williams, Austin and Moseley for a performace that was recorded and recently released as “Dos.” All proceeds from the sale of “Dos” are going to the Rex Foundation, the charity set up by the Grateful Dead in 1983 in honor of longtime crewmember Rex Jackson.

“A few years ago I was set to play the Fillmore in Denver,” Williams explained. “I called on Keith and Jeff, who live in the area, and they jumped right on board.”

Friday’s set started with a rousing “Cold Rain and Snow” followed by “Jack Straw”, which is usually sung by Bob Weir. Williams mentioned Weir and sent the song out to him in his absence. Weir was scheduled to perform at the festival, but had to pull out for unannounced reasons. Next, a jammy “Jack-a-Roe” led into a slow, shuffling “Sugaree.”

The crowd that packed into the shady Triangle Stage area wasn’t afraid to sing right along to every word of every song as the music of the Grateful Dead was presented in string band fashion.

“Playing bluegrass versions of Dead songs is like skinny dipping to me,” Williams said, “in that it makes sense, feels good and is totally natural. Plus I suspect Jerry would have liked it. Skinny dipping that is!”

Austin took over vocals on a “Loose Lucy” that featured Starling’s dobro licks. The morning concluded with a fantastic rendition of “Shakedown Street”.
Saturday’s set continued the vibe from the previous morning with covers of “One More Saturday Night”, “Althea”, “Scarlet Begonias” and ending with a ten minute jam on “Bertha”.

“The first and third sets I played over the weekend were probably more crowded,” Williams said. “But the second seemed probably more relaxed.”

Sunday morning found “Brother” Williams, dressed in a black suit and tie (but still without shoes), bring a new group to the stage for Grateful Gospel. Fronted by singers from Williams’ band More Than a Little and featuring Furthur’s John Kadlecik on guitar, the music of the Dead was given a gospel edge.

Starting with “We Bid You Goodnight” the band moved through a number of Dead classics including “Ripple”,  “Samson and Delilah” and a “Eyes of the World>Feel Like a Stranger” that encompassed 23 minutes and allowed John K. to stretch out as he would with Furthur. Garcia Band favorite “My Sisters and Brothers” closed the set, which also included an epic cover of “Mighty High”, a 1975 R&B tune originally sung by the gospel band Mighty Clouds of Joy that JGB played about 20 times in 1976.

“I think it turned out really well,” Williams said afterward. “(It) is probably perfect for a Sunday morning festival slot. At Lockn’ it seemed to really suit the vibe of the crowd. I would most definitely do it again- no fear here.”

More than once fans were heard in the crowd saying “If church was like this, I’d go more often!” Williams said he likes to think the crowd connects with his loose interpretations because he’s one of them.

“I’m a music lover first, a musician second and a songwriter third,” he said.

Next up for WIlliams is a trip to the studio for a new solo record, one with which he hopes to break new ground.

“I’m going for an acoustic dance music vibe or what I like to call ‘ADM’,” he said. “I think of it as super funky beats underneath huge acoustic upright bass filled in with acoustic instruments. My idea is to create a record of something I’d listen to as opposed to just what I play- which isn’t always what I’m listening to.”

He also is slated to “cross something off the bucket list” when he joins Dead/Furthur bassist Phil Lesh onstage at the Capital Theater November 21 and 22 and a member of Phil and Friends. Can we expect some “grassed-up” versions of Dead songs?

“I’m extremely excited and nervous about playing the Capitol Theater with Phil, although bluegrass isn’t likely for those shows,” he said. “I am hoping for pure color coming from the speakers as we have improvised musical conversations.”

Cabinet and Tauk Lockn it up!

Article & Photos by Eric Rayburn

One of the things that makes Lockn’ Festival special is the “interlocking” aspect of the weekend. Organizers have set it up so that one band plays right into another, making for roughly 12 hours of non-stop music per day. This can sometimes create jarring transitions, but it can also lead to some interesting moments.

At this year’s festival, held September 4-7 at Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington, Va., there were fewer unannounced sit-ins than last year. Two notable sit-ins this year were the Del McCoury Band literally walking from one stage to the other to join the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Susan Tedeschi joining Widespread Panic Sunday night for “Use Me”. But there was a moment early Friday afternoon that showcased two of the smaller bands and how bands of different genres can interlock with the best of them.

Tauk is an instrumental 4-piece from Long Island. Led by the dynamic and driving drumming of Isaac Teel, the band plays a funky, jazzy type of prog rock. They had the first hour long set on the Ridge stage Friday and they used every minute to their advantage, moving from one song to the next, often without any pause. The set was dark, driving and almost brooding. It felt like a gritty, gray and rainy New York City day. As Tauk worked toward the end of their set another band was setting up over on the Oak stage.

Cabinet is sextet from Pennsylvania known for energetic and bright bluegrass. They have been establishing a loyal fanbase in the Northeast built on a tour heavy schedule. With two studio albums under their belt, Cabinet is on the cusp of breaking out from being a regional band to going national.

These two bands shared a moment that likely wasn’t planned and may not have even been that noticed by most in attendance. As Tauk finished their set (a few minutes late) with “Mindshift” (which is in rotation on SiriusXM’s Jam On), “Heavy” and “The Chemist”, Cabinet immediately began. This is where the boys who bill themselves as “High on Pennsylvania Bluegrass” showed themselves to be accomplished musicians who can play more than jaunty, upbeat and happy mountain music.

Starting with “Celebration” and moving into “Susquehanna Breakdown,” the band seemed to be projecting a more moody side of bluegrass. These songs, normally a bit brighter and more bouncy, seemed to be played a touch slower, a bit darker. In doing so, it provided a more seamless transition between two sets of very different music. Maybe they planned it that way or maybe it was like that only to my ears, but as they moved into “Eleanor>Mysterio” the music became brighter and happier, as if clouds had parted revealing the blazing Virginia sun that beat down on the festival patrons.

In spite of the heat, people were dancing and smiling. In spite of the difference in style these two bands showed the spirit of a festival dedicated to improvisation and interlocking. Both Tauk and Cabinet played their hearts out that day and hopefully garnered some new fans in the process.

The Infamous Stringdusters Release “Let It Go”

No joke, The Infamous Stringdusters release their fifth studio album today, April Fool’s Day 2014. The album catches a band full of musical savants hitting their collaborative stride.

Although The Dusters are known for their engaging live performances and jam chops, Let It Go presents a collection of eleven tracks precisely trimmed to their essential elements. There isn’t a shortage of instrumental prowess or wow moments, just a more concise presentation of what you can expect in a live environment.

Let It Go is a feel good album with immense replay value. “I’ll Get Away” gets things started with driving rhythm and a classic Dusters’ crescendo. “Where The Rivers Run Cold,” “Peace of Mind,” and the title track are all standouts. “Colorado” is destined to be a sold out Morison amphitheater singalong.

Support The Infamous Stringdusters and by purchasing Let It Go through or iTunes.


Sam Bush & Larry Keel At Georgia Theatre

Sam Bush and his band performed at the Georgia Theatre on Friday, March 21, 2014. Larry and Jenny Keel opened, highlighted by their performance of “Love” and the man with the mandolin joining them to close out the set.

Sam and his band played one long set. Captured videos include “Bluegrass Train” and a solo version of “Girl From The North Country.” Full review pending, check on YouTube video collection in the interim.


Photos From Greensky Bluegrass With The Keels

Lots more to come including a full review and videos of the condenser mic encore and “Midnight Rider.” For now, enjoy a few pics (non-iPhone, for a change).


Raising A Glass With Floodwood

On St. Patrick’s Day in 2014, Floodwood showed up at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, GA ready to paint the town green. The progressive string band – currently on a swing that includes eleven dates in ten days – billed the show as Floodwood Quartet while drummer Vinnie Amico sits out before rejoining the band heading into Suwannee Springfest.

Rev. Jeff Mosier and Donna Hopkins opening for Floodwood at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, GA on 3/17/2014.

Atlanta music legends Donna Hopkins and Rev. Jeff Mosier (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Bluegrass Underground, The Mosier Brothers Band) opened the show, trading songs that bounced from Hopkins’ soulful, singer/songwriter numbers to Mosier’s mastery of the five-string and powerful vocals. A highlight included Mosier performing “Black Muddy River.” His introduction stated that after Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia suffered a diabetic coma, he had to retrain himself to play and this was the first song he learned. Ultimately, it is the last song Garcia would sing. LiveJams was on hand to capture video of a few songs performed by Hopkins and Mosier.

Floodwood performed one long set highlighting tracks from 2013’s This Is Life, unreleased tunes, and choice covers. Banjo and fiddle man Nick Piccininni took first vocal responsibility, performing “It’s A Long Way to Virginia.” All three melodic pickers took vocal lead for several songs throughout the evening, while stand-up bass man Zachary Fleitz provided harmony on most tunes. An unreleased tune, the instrumental “Chillicothe Clouds” showcases that Piccininni and mandolinist Jason Barady can both really pick it and appear to be having a great time on stage, always smiling and dancing.

Al Schnier lead vocals on “Raise A Glass,” his Irish-drinking song included on moe.’s Sticks And Stones. Schnier’s Martin box was thunderous throughout the performance and highlighted several flatpicking moments. He also took principal vocal responsibility on “Revolving Door,” “Anyone But Me,” and a wonderful version of Neil Young’s “Get Back To The Country.”

Early in the set the band invited Mosier to roll the banjo while Piccininni sang and fiddler to the bluegrass standard “Nine Pound Hammer.” The crowd persuaded Mosier to stick around and influenced selection of the next song, the Garcia/John Dawson/Robert Hunter penned “Friend Of The Devil.” The Grateful Dead guitarist’s spirit echoed throughout the night as songs like “I Know You Rider,” “The Hobo Song,” and others etched in Deadhead’s memories via Garcia’s performances with David Grisman and Old And In The Way were sprinkled throughout the setlist.

A rowdy stage call brought the band back out for an encore. A familiar beat and Barady’s words indicated the band was attempting an impromptu “Crazy Train.” The mandolin picker tried to abandon the tune early but Schnier made sure he finished what he started. Like the rest of the performance, Floodwood nailed it.

Floodwood has a few more dates before taking some time off as moe. travels to Europe for a tour. Support and the band by purchasing their music on Amazon or iTunes after linking from the site.



Tossing A Line With The Keels

Larry and Jenny are the husband and wife duo known for projects including Natural Bridge, Keller & The Keels, and performances of Jeff Austin’s The Here & Now. They were nice enough to respond to a few questions from leading up to their performances opening for Greensky Bluegrass at Terminal West in Atlanta and Sam Bush at Georgia Theatre in Athens. I really enjoyed the performance of Larry Keel’s Acoustic Power Trio in Clarkesville, GA and it seems you guys had a great time, too. How do you stay upbeat given the range of venues and audience sizes you face during the year?

Larry Keel: Well, we thoroughly love what we do! We’ve had plenty of twists and turns in the road for the past twenty years that could have steered us away from being full-time, professional touring musicians… but that’s all we know we want to do as a career and we’ve dedicated ourselves to it (I’m speaking for jenny and myself, at least). We’ve got a great band and crew to travel with, a great team that manages and does the office stuff, and endless opportunities to play music with great artists and acts all over the place. Always something fresh and new to experience, no matter what the setting. On Friday 3/21, you play with Sam Bush at the Georgia Theatre in Athens. I assume your relationship with Sam goes back a ways. What are some of the highlights?

Larry Keel: Sam and I have had a few very good, mutual friends in common (promoters, musicians) for a long long time, it just took a while for us to finally meet and connect. But that’s been a dozen or more years now, since [then] we’ve gotten to know each other and played together numerous times. Some highlights of some killer jams we’ve gotten on together would be me and him and Darol Scott doing a set at Appalachian Uprising in OH a few years ago, Sam getting up with my band Natural Bridge at Grand Targhee Fest in WY to play Leon Russell’s “Manhattan Island Serenade” (Sam played in Leon’s band for many years back in the 70’s and early 80’s), and me and Sam joining the Del McCoury band at a black tie affair showcase in Nashville one time. He had a giant leg cast on, under his tux. Still crushing it even with a broken leg. Getting to meet his Dad and listen to cassette tapes of great Texas fiddlers that his Dad likes, sitting in his truck in a diner parking lot in KY. There’ve been so many encounters – Telluride, Arkansas, Florida, etc… he’s without a doubt one of my biggest heroes and influences in pioneering progressive bluegrass. Thursday 3/20 brings the Keels to Atlanta for a date with Greensky Bluegrass. Any special memories playing with anyone from Greensky?

Jenny Keel: We’ve known those guys since their very first foray into becoming a touring band. We (Larry Keel Experience) were playing a club in a ski town in Colorado… I think it was Steamboat or Breckenridge.  The promoter had put Greensky on as our opening act. They were super cool, very young Michigan hippy pickers, and they were super fired up to play with us. They said they knew all about Larry’s playing and knew he had won Telluride Bluegrass Fest guitar contest. We encouraged them to go to Telluride to compete in their band contest, and they did that next summer and won it! We’ve been buddies ever since, and our paths have crossed tons of times over the years. We’re so proud of them and and their accomplishments. They’re putting out wonderful new music and stellar shows. Can’t wait to merge forces again coming up in Atlanta. You’re a seasoned veteran in the bluegrass industry. What are the most significant changes you’ve observed, positive or negative?

I’ve been seeing a lot of younger bluegrass-instrumentation bands covering non-bluegrass material, along with playing standards from the string band repertoire. They might play cover tunes that are very familiar to the young audiences they’re playing to, or current-sounding original material. By doing this, these bands are helping to expand the audience for bluegrass, getting those listeners’ attention so they’ll also take in traditional tunes when they hear them. This results in preserving bluegrass music, which has always been my approach and my goal entirely. Bands like Greensky Bluegrass, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Leftover Salmon are playing to far bigger crowds than the average traditional bluegrass band. That kind of exposure for bluegrass music is helpful to the cause. You’re an avid fisherman. If you could only keep one rod and reel, what would it be and why?

Larry Keel: I’d keep a 6’2″ medium action, one-piece graphite rod with a Pflueger Ambassadeur reel, 8 pound fluorocarbon line, and a wacky rig worm. This set up will catch anything, anywhere. Tried and tested positive.

Larry and Jenny Keel are always on tour in one way or another. Check out their tour page for an updated schedule, including multiple performances (and Larry doing a Jerry Garcia tribute set!) at Aiken Bluegrass Festival May 9-10. Support the Keels and by shopping for their music at or iTunes, preview below from Spotify!

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