Though Greensky Bluegrass has a musical genre in its name, that’s never pigeonholed the quintet. The band formed in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2000, bonding initially over a communal love of traditional bluegrass. But its members were also fans of Phish and the Grateful Dead, skilled at taking old songs to new places, writing catchy originals, and cultivating a party. And ever since winning the Telluride Bluegrass band competition in 2006, they’ve been on an upward trajectory—one that’s brought them to Colorado time and again.
Over the years, the band developed a loyal fan base, with people drawn to poetic, lyric-driven songs and heady jams. Although they can get twangy and always adhere to a classic bluegrass instrumentation (read: no drums or keys), they approach arrangements like an improvisational rock band. A four-minute album track may morph into a 12-minute psychedelic journey when performed live, a Bill Monroe cover could share set time with one by Prince, U2, or Bob Marley. The band has always acknowledged that songs have the ability to evolve over time.
Like the songs they play, Greensky Bluegrass has evolved, too. Almost two decades in, the band has given up 180 days of shows on the road and now play fewer (but larger) venues. And most of the members—Dave Bruzza (guitar, vocals), Anders Beck (dobro), and Paul Hoffman (mandolin/vocals)—as well as its lighting director Andrew Lincoln, all call Colorado home. They own houses and have families here, and now they’re gearing up to play the most epic of hometown shows: Three nights at Red Rocks Amphitheater, September 13-15, with openers the Lil’ Smokies, Rayland Baxter, and Billy Strings.
Before they take the stage in Morrison, we spoke with Hoffman about how the band has grown and what it means to make it big.
5280: Two decades in and Colorado is where most of the band has chosen home. Why is that?
Paul Hoffman: I love it here. When I first moved here, it was fun to be going to all the concerts all the time. To be able to participate in the scene that I travel in on the other side—I get to see a lot of other bands of friend’s of mine when I’m not working, collaborate with musicians that live here. Plus, I love to be outside and this is one of the best states to be outside in.
This is your first three-night run at Red Rocks. There’s not much that comes after that in this town.
I don’t know how you grow beyond three nights at Red Rocks. I guess we could play the Pepsi Center, Mile High, three nights at Dicks Sporting Goods. There aren’t a lot of bands that play three nights at Red Rocks, though, and that is not lost on us. Thank you, Colorado. And Red Rocks isn’t just Colorado. It’s amazing. People from all over the country come in for that, for all bands, and they will for us, too. It’s crazy flattering and unbelievable.
How have things changed since the early days of Greensky Bluegrass?
When you play bigger venues you play fewer shows, because you want to fill them. The touring we do now is a more efficient model in all ways, so we go to the places we want to go in the right order. When you play less shows, each note also matters more. There’s more professionalism now because we know it’s working. It’s still a ton of fun, and we care about it in all the same ways, but I think it’s a little more refined. And hopefully, that’s a good thing.
Is your songwriting different now?
Lot’s changed. I don’t know how the songs changed specifically. I have a way of seeing things in my creative writing style that is the same way I answer all the questions: There’s light in all the dark, and dark in all the light.
I’ve started writing again since having a daughter and people predict I’m going to start writing all these happy, awesome songs now, because life’s so good and grand. But, you know, good is scary too, and responsibility still frightens me, and I write about that a lot. Fear of responsibility and balancing regret with the decisions you make, and all that kind of stuff.
For those who have never seen you, what can they expect?
The scene we’ve created is dedicated and really awesome. A lot of fans come to multiple shows and make friends at shows; we have a whole group of people that used to be strangers that now are great friends, that are united by us, the music, and the experience, and they meet up around the country for shows and stuff. It’s pretty inspirational to see the friendships that we build, in addition to the catharsis and joy that music can bring.
I hesitate to take credit, but we facilitate this safe place for people to meet like-minded people, and maybe even not like-minded people, and learn new things and make new friends. And it goes beyond the concert, which is really cool. There’s this concept of the music being bigger than just the five of us, and it’s just humbling and really rad. I think three nights at Red Rocks really speaks to that in a lot of ways.
But we’d be safe in calling you a jam band?
We have a lot of material and there’s not a lot of artists that can go out on the road and play their whole catalog like we do. It’s a real feat in memory sometimes, with 200 and whatever songs in pretty steady rotation.
I feel like there’s got to be a collective sense in the band of “We’ve made it.”
Yeah, I think so, but we’re always trying to do better. I’m so grateful for everything that we have, and everything that we’ve accomplished. I want to just not fuck it up.