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Concert preview: Greensky Bluegrass rocks tradition

Published November 12, 2013 9:56 am

Interview • Band returns to Salt Lake City for a show at The State Room.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Greensky Bluegrass has a unique name and approach to music, with one foot in traditional bluegrass and the other in rootsy rock.

The band is constantly asked: "Are you a rock and roll band playing bluegrass, or a bluegrass band playing rock and roll music?" mandolin player Paul Hoffman explained in a recent interview.

Depending on the moment, both are correct.

It's that combination that Rolling Stone magazine praised for "representing the genre for a whole new generation."

The group — which played a sold-out Utah show in March — returns to Salt Lake City's State Room on Wednesday, Nov. 13. The show is part of a 42-date tour that includes a performance for PBS' "Austin City Limits."

Besides Hoffman, the Michigan-based band includes Anders Beck, dobro; Michael Arlen Bont, banjo; Dave Bruzza, guitar; and Mike Devol, upright bass.

Hoffman recently took a break from traveling to talk to The Tribune about the band.

You've been together for more than a decade. What keeps you together?

We've been touring eight years, and a couple of us have been playing together for 13. It works because, obviously, we get along and we are friends. But it's exciting playing the kind of music that we do, breaking boundaries and expectations that people have. That keeps it interesting for us. It's a challenge to perform without drums and without being electric, but we feel like we can cut new ground.

If you like rock and roll, how did you come to play the mandolin?

I saw [American bluegrass mandolinist] David Grisman in concert when I was 18 and decided that I liked the mandolin. I was a guitar player, and Grisman's quintet had this good fusion. The way he plays melodically inspired me and made the instrument seem fun. After that, I started listening to Sam Bush; these two guys were the benchmark for what my instrument could do and how it could be fun.

How did you decide on the band name, which is a great play on words?

It was the idea of a mutual friend who is not in the band. It's a good name, although some people don't get it.

Rolling Stone praised you for "representing the genre for a whole new generation." How does that feel?

Some people say we have an obligation to uphold bluegrass music, and we're happy to play it. But unfortunately, we've been cussed by some people saying we've ruined bluegrass because we are crass and young and like rock and roll. We're taken aback by that. There are a lot of young people and music fans that don't even know what bluegrass is but [after they listen to us] they like it. I know our music leads them to greats like Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe. I know how that works because it happened for me.

Talk about the new album, "If Sorrows Swim."

It should come out early 2014. I write a significant portion of the songs along with Dave Bruzza. He and I sort of come up with the framework for a song and at various degrees of development we see how it works for the band. Arranging music is one of the greatest strengths of our band, and with this album we had so many possibilities. We would experiment with every song: "What if we played it fast?" "What if it's slow? or "What if it had a reggae sound?" We recorded each song three entirely different ways. With more ideas, there's less attachment to one expectation as a writer. We're open to what the song can become when we get input of all five members.


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Greensky Bluegrass

When • Wednesday, Nov. 13, 8 p.m.

Where • State Room, 638 S. State, Salt Lake City; 801-501-2885

Tickets • $17 in advance; $20 day of show

Details • greenskybluegrass.com