There are few bigger honors in the San Francisco music scene than a bands first time headlining the Fillmore, and on Friday March 15th, it was Greensky Bluegrass’ night to shine on the big stage. They were not alone on this evening as Ryan Montbleau Band handled opening duties, and the one and only Sam Bush decided to make a trip out to support his brothers in bluegrass. A sizable crowd welcomed all the musicians over the night, and stayed dancing well into the late hours of the night underneath those brilliant chandeliers.
Ryan Montbleau warmed up those in attendance early with a set of his brand of folkified, soul funk. Having been a constant, and respected, personality in the jam scene for almost a decade now, he has garnered some devote fans. His style is pleasing to the ear, and can easily get a room dancing to his booming voice.
Greensky Bluegrass was anxious to get going, and wasted little time jumping head first into their dynamic style of renegade string music. Their knack for life on the road is evident by the ease of communication between the members, as they toss solos back and forth in a truly effortless manner. The quintet blazed through some of their original material in competent manner, but it was somewhat evident that the crowd was ready to expand this group with the addition of legend, Sam Bush.
Fiddle would be Bush’s instrument of choice to start out the evening, busting into a romp of an instrumental piece before the first few notes of “Same Ol’ River” rung through the venue. This standout track featured Bush on mandolin, and included an extended jam with fellow mandolin player Paul Hoffman of Greensky. Sam Bush possesses this great musical leadership skill that allows him to seamlessly play with almost any acoustic bluegrass band with such professional competence that you forget it’s not his band.
“Girl From the North Country” featured a duet between Bush and Anders Beck, who has become a highly respected dobro player in their music circle. His tone shines through on so many songs, and this one was no exception. Another duet was on deck, this time between Paul and Sam playing the crowd pleasing song, “Sailing Shoes.” A nod to Robert Johnson’s famous song “Crossroads” earned a howl and applause from the crowd before heading back into “Sailing Shoes.” “Bringing in the Georgia Mill” closed out the well built set.
A setbreak led into the Greensky Bluegrass original “Jaywalking,” a track they have become rather well known for over the past years. It was no surprise that this show was a little more anticipated than others on the tour, and the band truly nailed the evening with a mix of original songs, thoughtful covers and one legendary guest to help out when needed. “Could You Be Loved” slowed the frantic pace and allowed some clouds to billow into the lights before dedicating the next song to Fillmore founder Bill Graham. “Working on a Building” by Bill Monroe was a highlight of the second set as the vocal pitches were skillfully nailed.
The band played solidly into the one o’clock hours, picking up the pace to please dancing feet throughout. Greensky is on the up and up as contemporary string music creeps from the shadows into a more palpable, even popular, light.