After three hours of near continuous play Greensky Bluegrass finally left the stage. They’d come out to a crowd whipped into a frenzy by the rockabilly jam band mixture of the Ryan Montbleau band from Boston. A spectacular band that, were they opening for any other band, might have out played the headliner. There was a very fine tuned sound that played well to the crowd of San Franciscans ready to dance, sing and drink the night away. It was the perfect Friday night to be at the legendary Fillmore. They played for about 45 minutes and an encore was called for, but never achieved. This is only the second time I’ve ever seen an opening band get that kind of ovation.
They weren’t opening for just any old band, though. They were opening for a band that can only be described as Dead-like, as in Grateful Dead. Greensky Bluegrass are the kind of band that come through town at least once a year, play some of the best music you’re ever going to hear live and then leave you wanting more. Friday night was no exception. They ran through their first three or four songs and then brought out renowned multi-instrumentalist and originator of this whole “newgrass” movement Sam Bush.
One of the things you’ll get at a Greensky Bluegrass show and out of a San Francisco crowd is knowledge. These are people that know their musicians. So when Sam Bush came out the crowd roared and the man who has played with the likes of Bela Fleck, Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton and Doc Watson grabbed his fiddle and they roared into some old favorites. Then the band left the stage and it was just Anders and Sam doing an inspired cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” like I’ve never heard it before. Then Anders left the stage and it was just Sam and Paul on stage for a rendition of an old blues classics medley “Sailin’ Shoes/Crossroads” (I’m pretty sure there was another song in there, but I couldn’t place it).
They then took a 15 minute break where I mingled outside with the smokers of the world, a group I have never belonged to. We stood outside in the clear, cold evening wondering how the boys from Michigan intended to regale us the second time through. We cavorted in clever conversation boys and girls, men and women enjoying the platonic company of one another united by an ancient musical style made possible by the moonshiners of the Appalachians so many eons ago. We decompressed and went back inside about 15 minutes later.
The second set was an energetic journey through the Greensky discography with songs like “Jaywalking”, “Working on a Building” and “Worried about the Weather”. They covered Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” and closed the second set out with the best song of the night, a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s classic from his Nebraska album, “Atlantic City”. It was my favorite song of the night, not only because of my unabashed love for Bruce Springsteen, but also because of my unabashed love for The Band which was the actual direct cover (RIP Levon Helm).
They left the stage and the crowd thunderously begged them to come back. The floor at the Fillmore shook so hard I could barely stand. It was almost a necessity to jump like everyone else merely to keep balance and even though my feet hurt like they never have I too bounced like a kangaroo hoping they’d come back to play another song that lasted at least 10 more minutes like the majority of the evening did. Come back they did and ended with the best jam of the night. Sam Bush dripping with sweat, the whole group soaked with exhaustion and yet 12 minutes later we were all walking outside after having had our senses inundated with brilliance. This band is the living breathing embodiment of the Grateful Dead. They leave everything on the stage and give the most honest performance any could ask for. It was a night for the ages.