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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Greensky Bluegrass

Greensky Bluegrass is coming to town

Coming off the first leg of their winter tour, Mike Bont, the banjo player for Greensky Bluegrass, took a few minutes to catch up with The Daily Cardinal while preparing for their show in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Michigan-born band has been around and kicking for the whole 21st century, wherein they have played hundreds of gigs from coast to coast with their unique spin on bluegrass while mixing in a large jam component.

Over the course of their heavy tour load, they have watched their audiences grow from tiny clubs to the sold-out shows in larger clubs and theaters that they’re playing on this upcoming tour.

“It’s just amazing the fact that when you show up to a place for the first time and a bunch of people show up, you’re like, ‘wow, where did all these people come from, this is pretty awesome,’” Bont said.  “And at one point it happens, and it’s been happening lately and it’s still going to continue to happen and it’s pretty awesome for me as a musician, not knowing what to expect.  Like here, we’re in Louisville tonight and I imagine we’ll sell it out, and it’s like ‘where did all of these people come from?’”

While many jam bands are derided for having much lower quality studio work, Greensky Bluegrass put an extra effort into their latest release, If Sorrows Swim, which netted them massive critical and commercial success.  The album peaked at number one on the Billboard Top Bluegrass Albums chart and found a home on the Billboard 200 for the first time.

“I think that when we do our studio albums, it’s less about the whole ‘jam’ thing and more about the artistic quality of the project on the whole,” Bont said.  “And so we try and incorporate the jam elements, but we try and look at the song on the whole, if the jam section fits the structure of the song and whatnot and there’s a big difference there and it’s just awesome that it’s been so well and widely received by all kinds of different people.”

The term “jam band” can be a dirty phrase for some bands, with groups not wanting to be clumped in with their un-showered counterparts.  Nevertheless, for Greensky Bluegrass, the term isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but what they try and create goes beyond trading 12-bar solos.

“I think we consider ourselves kind of a jam band,” Bond said, “but also jam can mean many things.  It can mean experimental, it can mean, in our world we have this thing we call soundscapes, we try to create a soundscape as opposed to a person taking a particular solo through a passage, it’s more about creating a soundscape.  More like a Jim James-y, My Morning Jacket type of thing.”

Bont would go on to say, “After playing so many live shows over the years together, because as a group, we’re very intuitive, well, most nights we’re intuitive.  Sometimes it just gets plain weird.  But as a musician, that’s what I love, we can look at a show every night and not know what to expect from the show.”

When it comes to writing set lists, while sometimes the band will plot out what they are playing, other nights, anything goes.

 “It’s a little bit of everything,” Bont said.  “A lot of times it’s collaborative, sometimes it’s nothing at all, sometimes it’s whatever we feel the crowd wants or what the show needs, just kind of making it up as you go along.”

One element from the jam scene that Greensky Bluegrass does bring to their live shows is their large repertoire of covers.

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“Someone will just start messing around with the main lick of a song during a rehearsal or during sound check,” Bont said.  “And sometimes it will be planned where someone will say, ‘Hey, I want to do this song either like bluegrass or the way the song is’ and sometimes it’s just by accident.”

On their last trip to Madison, Greensky Bluegrass played the Majestic Theatre, right off the Capitol.  This time, the band has stepped up to the Stoughton Opera House, a more than century old room nestled on the second floor of Stoughton City Hall.  However, even set to play outside of the city limits, Bont was effusive in his praise of Madison.

“We love playing Madison,” Bont said.  “We’ve been playing Madison for what seems like forever.”  He went on to say, “People seem to dig us and we always enjoy playing cold and chilly Madison.”

Greensky Bluegrass will take the stage at the Stoughton Opera House at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26.

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