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Greensky Bluegrass doesn't see jam scene as black-and-white

| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Chris Monaghan
Greensky Bluegrass

Every once in a while, a band chooses a name so perfect that it tells you almost exactly what the band will sound like before you've even heard them play a note.

Greensky Bluegrass is one of these bands.

You know it's going to be bluegrass, of course. But then there's that goofy, pun-ny Greensky bit. It seems like perhaps these guys could be little irreverent, and perhaps less concerned with tradition-bound orthodoxy, but confident enough in their pickin' skills to call themselves “bluegrass.”

Right on all counts.

Greensky Bluegrass, which is performing Jan. 22 at the Rex Theater on the South Side, has a knack for keeping its options open. Though their bread-and-butter is the jam-band scene, they're just as comfortable sharing a bill with hardcore bluegrass legends like Del McCoury. Or, they can be a change-of-pace band at a rock festival, and certainly hold their own.

Bluegrass isn't an obvious choice for kids growing up in Kalamazoo, Mich., far from the Appalachian homeland of the music.

“It was something we all listened to,” says guitarist Dave Bruzza. “We found it through the Grateful Dead, mostly.”

The Dead's influence is large, but not immediately obvious. Instead, they play bluegrass fast and hard, with a skill for writing downbeat, melancholy lyrics — played at blazing-fast speeds. It's a heady blend — like whiskey and espresso in the same cup — but it works.

Despite showing increasingly strong songwriting, Greensky Bluegrass is known just as much for their memorable, unexpected covers. Their extended-bluegrass-workout versions of Prince's “When Doves Cry” or Bruce Springsteen's “Dancing in the Dark,” tend to win over even the most-ardent bluegrass skeptics.

“Sometimes it comes about as a joke (choosing songs to cover),” Bruzza says. “Sometimes, it's friends or family who have a suggestion. Something really hits you, and it feels right. For a couple of years, we did this '80s Halloween thing, and did two sets of '80s tunes.”

Looking forward, the band seems happy evading easy categorization, which opens up all sorts of unexpected opportunities.

“It's not intentional,” Bruzza says. “It's just what we do. We like our songs and the way we're going. Our influences are all over the board. We just take whatever we think sounds good.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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