The band Greensky Bluegrass performed at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles on Friday, November 12th, 2021. An opening performance by Holly Bowling was followed by two acts by the band (which consisted of members Anders Beck [dobro], Michael Arlen Bont [banjo], Dave Bruzza [guitar], Mike Devol [upright bass] and Paul Hoffman [mandolin]). This performance marked night two of the band’s triumphant return to the live music scene, following the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions placed on live concerts.
Opener Holly Bowling, a piano player who, in a haze of dark blue and hardly noticing the audience, created in the Fonda an ethereal and mysterious world. Bowling demonstrated her command of genres ranging from contemporary classical to jazz. The audience eagerly sang along to her evocative, instrumental rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Althea,” for example. She made use of funky synth sound machines, at one point layering several elements on top of her piano playing like she was creating professional studio tracks right before the audience’s eyes. Bowling’s impressive opening act made it difficult to remember that she was only one musician and not a band of five.
The band followed Bowling with two acts and was joined by her for the second. Their performance was accompanied by big fanning lights of blues, purples, greens and at the end of the show, rainbows that waved and strobed perfectly on beat. No surprise there, given the band’s reputable team of light show technicians.
The Fonda Theatre provided a beautifully vintage setting with a relatively small and homey feel. A glitzy bar faced the stage approximately a hundred feet away, and attendance was capped such that each audience member had room to roam. This made the concert feel intimate—like something special was happening. This was a pleasantly surprising atmosphere for a band that’s been on the scene for two successful decades.
The first set began with the lyrical and folksy-romantic songs “Hold On” and the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care.” This set a nostalgic tone for the rest of the performance. The nature of this tour is indeed nostalgic; the band and its audience seem grateful for the opportunity to celebrate music together again. They’re making up for time lost.
The band then dipped into a more traditional bluegrass sound with songs like “A Letter to Seymour” and a bluegrass rendition of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Stop that Train.” These songs highlighted the genre’s iconic banjo, jumpy Americana jigs of unrelenting rhythm aplenty. The band payed homage to the genre before beginning to explore more heavily with rock, jazz and psychedelic sounds, as well as with improvisation—hallmarks of the “progressive bluegrass” genre that the band is often categorized by. Some examples included funky and experimental sounds by Holly Bowling toward the end of act two and their entrancing and meditative lengthening of songs reminiscent of psychedelic rock. At the end, “Run or Die” and the near-lullaby of encore “Dustbowl Overtures” gave the audience a leisurely yet thorough goodbye.
The band’s performance was unlike anything one would hear on their recordings. Songs that were recorded to three minutes were drawn out frequently towards ten, and impressive improvisations with elements that span different genres kept the audience on their feet. Audience members have come to rely on this characteristic of GSBG performances because it keeps things interesting for long-time followers. Many audience members include GSBG on their top ten “jam bands” list, alongside bands like Phish.
Finally, it’s interesting to note that the members of the band were dressed casually. There were no coordinated outfits, and there was no eye-catching garb. This was probably because the focus was never on the band members to begin with. Rather, the focus was on the music being made and on the audience community. The love between the band and the audience, and among audience members, was palpable. Strangers danced with strangers; the crowd’s stomping on beat became an instrument. This love was refreshing, especially following roughly two years where live music communities were disrupted due to gathering restrictions. For anyone looking to connect with a community of welcoming and passionate music lovers, a Greensky Bluegrass concert just might be the place.
Set 2 (with Holly Bowling):
Run or Die