Greensky Bluegrass is a party like no other on Wednesday, Nov. 1
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – To Mike Devol, music is as vital as air, sustenance, and water.
“Music has been a selfish quest,” Devol said. However, it evolved into something far greater.
Devol holds a degree in cello from Western Michigan University but grew disenchanted with the rigidity of classical music. For him, “The way that music moves and breathes” transcends precision and flawlessness. Devol believes that songs have their own forms.
“Let the song define what it lacks. Work with it and wait for the song to reveal itself,” Devol said.
In 2004, Devol joined Greensky Bluegrass as the upright bassist. The band, which was originally formed in Kalamazoo, Mich. in 2000, had been in existence for four years by that point.
For twenty years, Greensky Bluegrass, a pun reversing the typical green grass and blue sky, has been steadily constructing their musical legacy. While their electrifying live shows and relentless tours are well-known, there’s more to the story of this quintet: Anders Beck on dobro, Michael Arlen Bont on banjo, Dave Bruzza on guitar, Mike Devol on upright bass, and Paul Hoffman on mandolin.
Beyond being seasoned road warriors, they share a deep bond, akin to a band of brothers weathering decades of highs, lows, and life’s twists and turns. These are genuine individuals with authentic experiences, weaving their own contemporary tales, emotions, and encounters into the fabric of modern bluegrass.
Greensky Bluegrass often receives letters from people who say that their music has propelled them through difficult times.
“These letters give us a sense of responsibility for creating music and continuing doing what we do and writing what we feel,” Devol continues, “Through our genuine process, we have then touched people who can make the music personal for themselves.”
Their fiercely loyal underground fan base consistently fills venues nationwide. They travel en masse and routinely sell out multi-night residencies at iconic locations like Red Rocks and The Ryman.
Greensky’s 2019 album “All For Money” debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top Bluegrass Albums Chart, earning acclaim from Billboard, NPR, and Rolling Stone. Their eighth album, “Stress Dreams,” strikes a balance between tradition and innovation. Crafted during the downtime of 2020, the single “Grow Together” showcases their distinctive sound, blending banjo, guitar, and mandolin with intimate vocals and a compelling electric guitar solo.
“Absence of Reason” introduces experimental elements, combining mystical dobro sounds and JJ Cale-inspired guitar work. Co-written by Anders and Chris Gelbuda, “Monument” gained newfound relevance during quarantine, reflecting on the abrupt changes brought by the pandemic. Mike Devol’s title track, “Stress Dreams,” explores a unique 6/8 time signature, delving into the patterns of stress-induced thoughts heightened by the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Closing with “Reasons To Stay,” the band embraces a lighthearted and funky tone, celebrating the physical connection between partners.
Crafting songs and making albums, however, takes a village. While Paul Hoffman, Greensky’s mandolin player, is a prolific songwriter, the band excels at transforming one individual’s concept into a collective creation.
Devol started writing music within the last five years. Drawing from his classical background, he discovered a valuable toolkit for arranging and orchestrating songs. He’s developed a knack for identifying what’s not working, a skill as crucial as identifying what is. Classical music is a science, so it’s been challenging at times for Devol to relinquish control, go with the flow, and improvise. He finds himself often “walking that line between the heart and the brain.”
In spite of their name, Greensky Bluegrass doesn’t identify as a bluegrass band, but more of a rock band minus the drums.
“Greensky is a rock show, a songwriter show, a lightshow, and a party,” Devol said.
The band prides themselves in not having a “typical Greensky listener” but a wide array of people from all walks of life. Greensky’s live performances are always unique, and their songs evolve with each rendition. They exhibit a sense of vulnerability with their audience, proving that they are “willing to go on adventures together musically. There’s this humanness of that great musical arrival when we are all in sync,” Devol continues, “And the crowd’s response to what we are doing really informs how it’s done. It’s a very powerful communicative experience.”
Through Greensky Bluegrass, Devol has joined a community that extends far beyond his own family.
“Just seeing the people we’ve brought together through coming to see Greensky shows. We’ve created this whole community. And there’s real power in it,” Devol said.
Devol has met people from all corners of the country and the world, now inseparably bound by their passion for music.
Greensky Bluegrass will be playing here in Lake Tahoe on Wednesday, Nov. 1 from 8-10 p.m. at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe South Shore Room. Tickets start at $45.41. Buy tickets at Ticketmaster.com.
Zoe Meyer is a reporter for the Sierra Sun, a sister publication for Tahoe Daily Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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