“Del Under Do It”
By: Seymour Wolf
From the opening bell in Cumberland, Maryland, Greensky Bluegrass was a band on a mission.
After being snubbed, bumped, or whatever you want to call it from the Dear Jerry lineup a week prior, the five bandoleros went South to play an excellent show in Richmond, Virginia. They received a warm welcome at DelFest. But before we get into that let’s take a step back.
Dear Jerry was viewed as a right of passage for Greensky and its members. They have endured an emotional rollercoaster of sorts throughout their career.
It has been a steep climb to the top over the past several years for Greensky. From playing small bars to the Potomac Stage at Delfest to larger venues like the 9:30 Club and Red Rocks, Greensky had done it all and they’ve done it the old fashioned way. They toured feverishly throughout the country and subsequently built a devoted fan base through hard work, late nights, goofy antics, and dark jams. All of this led them to the stage of Merriweather Post Pavilion – a history laden venue where Jimi Hendrix had once lit a guitar on fire and many of the band members’ favorite acts once graced the stage.
Now here they were, after what I expect was a great deal of practice, ready to take the stage in Columbia, Maryland to a sold out crowd of Dead-loving fans… And the plug was pulled due to time constraints. They never got to play that “Eyes of the World” they had worked on for so long. The next day saw a series of depressing and upset social media postings from the band and its members. The fans, including myself, felt a little off-put by the handling of Dear Jerry, but that’s another story. So, fast-forward 24 hours.
Greensky Bluegrass stepped on stage at Brown’s Island in Richmond, Virginia to a long-awaited applause. The crowd felt their inner turmoil. Alas, Greensky Bluegrass proceeded to spoil their fans by opening with Grateful Dead’s “Black Muddy River”. The core 5 had played BMR before, but this version was a particularly emotional rendition. So we can get to the meat of the story, this is the last that I’m going to mention the Richmond show, but it should be mentioned that Greensky followed Black Muddy River with a slowly building version of their own “Don’t Lie”. How about that for a statement?
And now we find ourselves at the main attraction. Six days after Richmond on the big stage at Delfest. The weather was interesting. A tinge of coolness in the air. The occasional drizzle from the traffic jam of rainclouds overhead. Evening dew blanketing the soft turf of the infield. It was perfect.
Here we are on the opening Thursday night of one of the friendliest festivals on Earth, and we’re about to see Greensky Bluegrass take the stage. Life is good.
As Lincoln’s lights went down, a raucous applause ensued for a very quick three minutes. A huge banner reading “Dear Jerry Missed You” was lifted up by fans about 20 yards back from center stage. The band bowed, and smiled, and waved to their old friends littered within the first few rows of the crowd. Most people cheered and hollered and hugged their brethren in preparing for what was sure to be an amazing 80+ hours of bluegrass, Americana, and soul music, spearheaded by one of the best bands touring. Del Yeah.
As Greensky tuned up and began toying with their instruments, it was clear that we were in for something special. You could begin hear the faint echoes of the song they were supposed to play a week prior. I expected a simple tease, and then it actually came. The opening chords of “Eyes of the World”. Anders and Bont serenaded the crowd with gorgeous opening licks and the full band fell right into it. The result was that the crowd immediately turned the dance floor to 11. The nearly 14 minute version of “Eyes” was sang by Paul. It was a helluva way to get the party started and they knew it. After the song came to an end, the band looked around and smiled and laughed with one another as if the proverbial monkey had jumped off their back and into the crowd, never to be seen again.
To put the emotions back in the box and tighten up the crowd, the boys wrapped up “Eyes” and burst into the weekend with Jimmy Martin’s bluegrass classic “Hit Parade of Love”. I think this song is played a minimum of three times during every Delfest, but it’s always a welcome addition and this was no exception. It’s a fairly straightforward tune, but the Greensky boys yell, holler, and scream their way through it, which always makes it a-lotta-bit hilarious and a-little-bit rowdy.
After a brief “Eyes” tease, things slowed for a few minutes with the Phoff road-love-commitment song “Forget Everything”. It was nicely placed after the wiley “Hit Parade of Love”. As the song culminated and the crowd had nearly caught their breath from the first two songs, Bruzza dived right into flames of “Kerosene”. The dark tune always evokes images of being lost in a 19th century post-war battlefield. As is customary, the song slowed to a petro-drip in the middle, followed by a patient build into an angry, fast, heart-pounding race.
As the skies dried and the clouds dissipated, there was only one constant. More darkness. Phoff and co. meandered their way into the plague-esque song “Bring Out Your Dead”. Paul’s voice echoed off the rock face to the South of the stage as grim reapers dragged their feet through Cumberland looking for their next prospect. Admittedly, the song started out with flubbed lyrics but eventually morphed into a rock n’ roll rythym.
With Cumberland’s 15-minute proximity to West Virginia, it made too much sense to drop into “Middle Mountain Towns”. As the song notes and Cumberland’s terrain embodies, “these old hills still give me life, every time you’re passing through, it seems to be raining.” It was beautifully placed in the middle of the set and brought us back to the realm of true bluegrass, whatever that means. Next “Windshield” reared its popular head. It’s a wonderful song, and it’s also wonderfully popular. I’m sure “Windshield” has pulled in many a new fan since its entrance to Greensky’s repertoire and the crowd seemed generally excited to hear the dark progression and emotionally distraught lyrics.
Following their hit single, Greensky Bluegrass sped things up by delving into a quick version of “Burn Them” whose lyrics lend the name to the boys’ latest album, If Sorrows Swim. The song got Paul going, leading to some witty banter between he and Anders. Many a “Del Yeah!” rang out amongst the crowd. The band thanked Del McCoury and their dedicated fan base for their ever-present annual posting at Delfest.
Next the core five built into one of their most beautiful, albeit gloomiest songs: “In Control”. The crowd swayed back and forth knowing how many times everyone, including the band members themselves, had grappled with their inner self-control and conscience. While the song stated that the band was not out of control, they decided to admit defeat and race into “Can’t Stop Now”. Admittedly one of my favorite GSBG songs, this particular version hugged the corners of the Delfest’s dirt racetrack, passing stockcars to the inside, and swinging it to the outside. The band’s pedals and distortion provided for a psychedelic-goof-off for a minute and a half as the song slowed to a near breakdown, only to be repaired into it’s once piston-firing self.
They were feeling it and it showed. After a series of dark songs, and traditional bluegrass tunes, GSBG decided to bring out Anders’ funk combined with the entire band’s goofiness. With undertones of reggae riffs, Bruzza and Anders decided to aware the crowd it was only Thursday and highlighted that if band were more responsible, they’d tell us to pace ourselves. This recommendation to get the party started played as the ideal springboard for the band to bounce into “Don’t Under Do It” / “Frederico” / “Forgotten Lyrics Jam”. Plainly put, the song rattles off chasing your dreams, and leading a fulfilling life, but the core crux of the tune revolves around the phrase “Don’t Under Do It”. As Anders and Paul repeated their mantra to the crowd, we all took their advice as marching orders to not under do it. NOTE: Listen to the following night’s “Broke Mountain Breakdown” in order to comprehend full effect of not under doing it. Trust me, it was not under done.
Finally, Greensky Bluegrass came full circle with one of their more popular vehicles in “Don’t Lie”. With several peaks and valleys, the song employed classical bluegrass, newgrass, funk, and rock in order to give the crowd the many tastes of green skies mixed with blue grasses all rolled into one. After an orchestrated meandering of riffs in the middle, the band quickly returned to the hyper and uncontrolled core of the jam, which left every fan with sore necks from the headbanging.
The band closed the show by repeating the words that every Delfest veteran considers the theme of the weekend: Del Yeah.
Till next year.
Playlist by ::shell::