Reviewer: Lisa Purchase Kelly
Venue: The Temple Theatre
Is there a way to unbolt the seats from the floor in this theater? If Greensky Bluegrass comes around again we might have to give that some serious consideration, because this is a band you should watch standing up. A band that people DID watch standing up … for the whole three hours they played.
I was alerted to what kind of show this was going to be when a friend messaged me before the show: “Where are you sitting? Just wondering if we might have some fellow dancers!”
I guess I’d better wear my dancing shoes and hope my seats are on the aisle.
As it turned out, it didn’t much matter where I was sitting. As the Temple Theater filled up before the show, people dutifully found their assigned seats for the opening act, but once Greensky Bluegrass ramped up all bets were off. The crowd became a little more fluid, and it became difficult to discern the seats from the aisles as nearly the entire main floor stood and casually danced in place for the rest of the show.
From their early 2000s beginnings in straight bluegrass, the Kalamazoo-based Greensky Bluegrass has grown from three members to five and their style has evolved into a somewhat looser interpretation of bluegrass music, creating a jam-band blend of roots and rock for the next generation. Their style incorporates lengthy instrumental breakdowns with complex tempos and time changes, accented with moving layers of light which scattered and gathered the audience’s attention.
In typical rock concert fashion, the seats were only half full when the opening act took the stage. Some folks scrambled to find their seats as the lights went down and the music came up, while others casually remained in the lobby greeting friends and pregaming the main event. The opener, May Erlewine, also hails from the west side of the state with roots in the early 2000s music scene there. Her work showcases musical influences of folk, bluegrass, blues, rock. Erlewine’s warm and powerful voice pulled the growing audience into their seats, and her profound and heartfelt lyrics grabbed the audience’s attention. By the time the headliners took the stage close to 9pm, this crowd was primed and ready for action.
If the goal is “most music per minute”, these guys are winning. The five members of this Greensky Bluegrass (Paul Hoffman – mandolin, Michael Bont – banjo, Mike Devol – double bass, Dave Bruzza – guitar, Anders Beck – dobro) played their strings with clear precision and blinding speed, while stepping up to their mics for beautifully blended vocal layers. For this swing through their home state they’ve also brought Holly Bowling on keyboard. This talented addition was the icing on the cake, topping off this musical feast with a decorative and tasty flair.
For their many ardent fans in the audience, this was a show that seemed more than the sum of its parts. In typical jam-band fashion it was hard to tell where one song ended and another began, as they ebbed and flowed and riffed and soloed into one another. At times the swirling lights and rising notes blended into a psychedelic cacophony, like a dobro spaceship taking off, creating a trippy transcendent musical experience.
This is a different kind of show than I am used to seeing at the Temple, and I thought it worked remarkably well. The typically formal orchestra crowd gave way to a peaceful party for somewhat younger patrons who absolutely reveled in the fact that this show that came to them. Once again the Temple Theater has broadened its style and reached new audiences with new genres. I saw many people walking into this space for the first time, mouths agape as they took in the beauty of the lobby and theater. These forays into new shows are an open invitation to newcomers, and they are answering the call.
Greensky Bluegrass ends the year with a show Friday at the Fillmore in Detroit and two sold-out shows at the Kalamazoo State Theater on the 30th and 31st.
Information on The Temple Theater’s upcoming events can be found at https://templetheatre.com/ .