Greensky Bluegrass knows the importance of exciting performances
March 13, 2015
Greensky Bluegrass mandolinist Paul Hoffman grew up listening to the Beatles, attending Phish concerts, singing in school choirs and performing in musical theater.
"I think being in that type of environment taught me how to perform and the importance of performing," Hoffman said during a telephone call to The Park Record from Omaha, Nebraska. "What we do in Greensky Bluegrass is very musically important to us and we want to be up there playing the best music we can every night, but the performance side is not lost on us.
"Ultimately we are performing a show that should be entertaining and exciting," he said. "I feel like I see a lot of musicians who I wish they would realize they are also performers. They don’t have to be so fixated on the perfect and flawless performance that they lose something in the live show."
Park City will see Greensky Bluegrass –Hoffman, guitarist Dave Bruzza, dobroist Anders Beck, bassist Mike Devol and banjoist Mike Bont — in action when it performs at Park City Live on Tuesday, March 17.
The last time the band played Park City was a year ago in February. Since then, it has released its fifth studio album, "If Sorrows Swim."
As with most of the band’s albums, Hoffman and Bruzza wrote the songs.
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"When the songs are close to done or done, we bring them to the rest of the band," Hoffman said. "Sometimes we’ll just bring ideas to the band as well, and then everyone works on the arrangements to see what suits the band the best."
The new album features 12 songs, most of which have never been heard live.
"Some of the songs we recorded had been pretty far along in the process and had been played live for a while, but there are those that haven’t been road tested."
Since the band’s formation in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2000, Hoffman has honed his own songwriting skills.
"I haven’t necessarily had trouble coming up with new ideas, but there are times when I do get concerned that I’m falling into a pattern," he said. "I know sometimes that’s the way it should be, but I try to think of things that we haven’t done or tried."
A lot of that concerns his songs’ musical textures and rhythms.
"Bluegrass as a pretty standard feel, even up to certain chord progressions," Hoffman said. "So finding ways to keep our songs fresh really makes things interesting."
That’s why the band is keen on experimentation.
"All of us came to bluegrass by way of our other musical interests," Hoffman said. "So I think it was natural for us to incorporate our influences and tastes into our own music."
He remembered when the band began improvising and playing longer solos in the early 2000s.
"That was birthed out of necessity in some ways," Hoffman explained. "We would make up a set list and play (The Stanley Brothers’) ‘How Mountain Girls Can Love,’ (the standards) ‘Salty Dog Blues’ and ‘White Freightliner’ and these songs are all in the same key and pretty damn similar. So it occurred to us to play one song twice as long instead of playing two songs that are pretty much the same, back-to-back. We are fans of the Grateful Dead, Phish and other bands that improvise with long musical sections, so it just seemed to make sense."
Throughout the years, Greensky Bluegrass has found its own niche in the acoustic-music scene, and the highlights have amazed Hoffman.
"There are so many, from winning a contest to play the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and now we play every year as an invited band," he said. "We sold two nights at the Fillmore in California and at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon."
Other rewards can also be found in smaller events.
"We played in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a couple of nights ago and I didn’t know we even had fans there," Hoffman said. "It was a Tuesday and we had 500 people show up. They were rowdy and fun, and I’m really grateful to be part of this."
Greensky Bluegrass will play at Park City Live, 427 Main St., on Tuesday, March 27. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 and $35 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcitylive.net.