Just before I headed up to the Westcott to catch Driftwood, a friend of mine who already loves the band, raved about their set the night before at Al’s Wine and Whiskey, especially their cover of the 1963 Ronettes single, “Be My Baby.” In the Driftwood cover, violinist/fiddler Claire Byrne puts her strings down to belt out the song and slam a tambourine against her dancing legs. As I was walking toward the Westcott, I could hear the beat of the song blasting through the bricks.
I caught the end of the cover and a few more songs in the band’s 45-minute set before the main act, Greensky Bluegrass came on, but I was sad to see them go. The band’s lively, young energy with shouting, singing, swaying and dancing made the four-piece addictive to watch and hear. They remind me of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, another band taking traditional bluegrass themes and instruments and making them more accessible for a younger demographic. Just before I covered CCD during the 2010 Spoleto USA Festival, they landed in the pages of SPIN magazine and have since blown the doors off traditional bluegrass standards. And people love it. Just like they seem to love Driftwood.
They’re becoming regulars in Syracuse, often at the Westcott, Al’s and soon slated to appear at Sterling Stage’s Memorial Day Weekend FolkFest. Syracuse – get out and see for yourself before they blow up even bigger.
Greensky Bluegrass is a five-piece out of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The banjo, mandolin, upright bass, guitar and steel guitar group took a half-moon stage stance and belted bluegrass to the crowd. Their forceful strumming and clean three-part harmonies brought me back to my time in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where similar bands seemed to be all around.
The band had a sense of humor, too, and joked about the mandolin player's shocking resemblance to Black Crowes front-man Chris Robinson. Even more amazing, they share the same birthday.
But I wasn’t blown away until they broke into their cover of “Time/Breathe Reprise” where they added a bluegrass twist to a song by the influential progressive band, Pink Floyd. The crowd responded with loud shouts of approval, me included.
But I had to pry my ears and eyes away from the Westcott and make my rounds down to the Dino where I once again heard a familiar song greeting me from the street. My favorite Bob Dylan song, “She Belongs to Me” was my first Nighthawks jam.
The band, which has a rich history with the Dinosaur, dating back to the beginning, brought old, funky blues to life for the swinging, dancing crowd with slamming harmonica, some seriously blues guitar, a killer, thick bass line and a drummer that didn’t just rock a beat out, but could also sing better than most full-time vocalists.
Though the band is older, (they’ve been doing this with various line-ups since 1972) you couldn’t tell by the music. They kept it pumping right until the end and challenged the crowd to keep up. Favorites at the Dinosaur, I can’t wait to keep an eye on the schedule and make it out for another round when they bring it back north.