Maturity is a term some musicians prefer not to see associated with themselves or their bands. After all, music is considered a young person’s game and youthful rebellion is what’s usually considered hip. But with the release of the sixth Greensky Bluegrass studio album, Shouted, Written Down &Quoted, mandolin player/singer Paul Hoffman is embracing the “M word” as a sign of the continued musical development of his group.
“It’s sort of the nature of our ensemble that we play a lot – and overplay even,” Hoffman said in a recent phone interview. “In bluegrass bands, like everybody is playing and playing so many damn notes. And at some point, I think with all music and all musicians, you get a little bit older and you realize, OK, I can play a lot of notes. But how do I play less? It’s the nature of all things, with flavor, words, color, music, the restraint is a more mature art form in learning how to use it.
“So that for me on this record I thought was really cool,” he said. “There are a lot of delicate moments. I think maybe it translates to, it’s not like in your face rocking the whole time.”
Greensky Bluegrass is known for its progressive approach to bluegrass and for bringing rock and roll energy to its music, and that isn’t lost on the latest album. Songs like Run Or Die, Fixin’ To Ruin, Living Over and Take Cover have plenty of energy in their brisk tempos and the quick-finger picking that the band members bring to their parts and solos.
But Hoffman is right about the moments of restraint and beauty that are peppered throughout on mid-tempo songs like Miss September and Past My Prime or ballads like Room Without a Roof and More Of Me.
It makes sense that the five members of Greensky Bluegrass are showing more maturity in their music. The group’s beginnings go back 15 years, to 2000 in Kalamazoo, Mich., when Hoffman, guitarist/singer Dave Bruzza and banjo player/singer Michael Arlen Bont formed the core of the original Greensky Bluegrass. The group went through a couple of lineup changes shortly after releasing its debut album, Less than Supper, in May 2004, eventually settling into the lineup that also includes Michael Devol on upright bass and vocals and Anders Beck on steel guitar.
A pivotal year for the band was 2006, when it released is second album, Tuesday Letter, and won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition. This earned Greensky Bluegrass a main stage slot at the 2007 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a performance that put the group’s career on a decidedly upward arc.
Since then, Greensky Bluegrass has released three more studio albums ( Five Interstates, Handguns and If Sorrows Swim), and seen its audience grow to the point where Greensky Bluegrass now routinely plays major theaters and main stages of major festivals. Augusta-area fans will remember they were the headline act at the 2015 Aiken Bluegrass Festival, and this Friday, May 26, they’ll be the headliners for day one of the 8th annual Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que and Bluegrass Festival.
The group’s shows have grown bigger on a visual level along the way.
“We keep getting more and more lights and more and more production stuff for the stage,” Hoffman said.
The visual emphasis is meant to serve a larger goal – to help make a Greensky Bluegrass concert an event that fosters a sense of community within the audience.
“That’s a big influence for us, just the presentation of the music and the concept of the show being an event and catering to people who see a whole run of shows,” Hoffman said.