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Why I’m Gonna Miss September: A Greensky/Fruition/Brad Parsons/Grant Farm/Baskery Odyssey

While the Boulder “Worried About the Weather” might have been unfinished, that didn’t stop of us from doing just that. Red Rocks might be a beautiful natural ampitheatre but, like most of Colorado, it is subject to squalls at any time of the year. We arrived in the lot at the height of the storm, put on layer after layer, and speculated over if the rain might be slowing down. Hint: no matter how many times I said it was stopping, it wasn’t. As much fun as it was to joke about blowing off the show, going to the hotel, and watching the webcast, this is a night where we earned every chord that we received. Was it 44 degrees? Were there literal waterfalls going down the stairs of the venue? Well yeah but once the music started, that felt like a minor consideration. If you’re cold, just dance harder.

Fruition did get the weather short straw as the rain was at its peak right before their set and it was still going strong when they took the stage. Fortunately Portland bands are well situated for such an event, having many many songs about the rain. Liquid air is a frequent breakup metaphor in their songs (e.g. “Falling On My Face” and “Mountain Annie”’s “The sky must know/The way that these things go/Because it’s raining like it’s never gonna stop.”) so seeing them in that setting just feels appropriate.

Greensky hails from Michigan so they’re more of a snow band than a rain one. Instead of being one with the rain, they vowed to keep us warm. Two songs into their first set, they delivered on that pledge. The run in “Run or Die” might be using the definition, “To retreat rapidly,” rather than, “To move swiftly on foot so that both or all feet are not on the ground during each stride,” [1] but as someone who needs to exercise daily for his health, the chorus has been a bit of a mantra. If you do want to try to increase your speed, I can think of few better soundtracks in the gym than this version.

As important as the high energy songs were to stave off hypothermia – “Handle With Care” and the second set opening “Don’t Lie” are also prime examples of energetic Greensky at their best – this wasn’t a one dimensional show. Midway through the first set, they brought out the Fruition singers to perform Handgun’s “Beauty and Pain.” This song is a perfect one for our era or at least my past year, a tribute to using music to surpass depression.

Between the jams, the mixture of songs throughout their eras, setlist games like throwing “Bring Out Your Dead” and “War Pigs” (with a hint of “Whole Lotta Love”) in the middle of “Kerosene,” this felt like a signature show for the band. They were given a shot on a big stage with weather that would fix the night strongly into everyone’s memory and they delivered.

The night didn’t end without one last surprise. All of Fruition was brought out for the encore. They performed one song from each band: “Death Comes Knockin’” followed by “Fixing to Ruin.” “Fixing” had the honor of being the first song Greensky would repeat over my three show run. They’ve quietly reached the point of being a band where you have to attend 4 shows if you want to see all of your favorite songs. Even the repeat shouldn’t count, as it was a complete rearrangement of the song, with almost a calypso feel. Inventive setlists, powerful jams out of great songs, and a silliness that lets them play games with their material if they feel like it: it’s hard to see a reason not to see Greensky Bluegrass right now if you can.

While the rain continued to fall on Boulder on Sunday, there was still room for one more event. Fruition was billed to perform on the eTown radio show. The experience of seeing a radio show taped was unique to me. There were lots of jokes about how this show was in the future as it wouldn’t air until January. When Fruition debuted a song (“Lonesome Prayer”), they were able to fix a slight miscue that occurred. Perhaps most memorable though were the surprise co-bill band, a Swedish sister group named Baskery.

When I first heard that the show that sold out as a Fruition bill was going to have a second band playing, I had flashbacks to 12/31/90. Phish were the only band on the ticket for that night, but it turned out that Chucklehead was going to play and play and play and play to the point where Phish were robbed the option of even having an encore; the venue turned on the houselights as the band was huddled to decide what to play. Other than the late announcement, this Baskery experience had nothing in common.

The theme in the bands I’m loving now is that they take acoustic bluegrass instruments and proceed to do insane things with it. Fruition are classic rock, Greensky Bluegrass play like they want to weaponize a 1994 “Split Open and Melt” jam. Baskery is Joan Jett and the Blackhearts as rearranged for acoustic bass, guitar, and banjo, and put into a bizarre cultural blender that their outsider’s perspective gives.

The youngest child Sunniva Bondesson jumps around and plays an aggressive electric guitar while Stella holds down a full upright bass. And then there’s Greta. Not only does she simultaneously play a kick drum and banjo – as their father was a one man band, perhaps that ability is genetic – but I watched her the entire time and I could not for the life of me figure out how she managed to get those sounds out of that instrument.

What was this punk energy devoted to? Were there songs about anarchy or some sort of manifesto? Nope? They had an ode to cat flaps and a cover of Neil Young’s “Old Man.” There was a desert song. Between their 40 minutes of playing and the interview, Baskery were pure delight, a mixture of influences combined so bizarrely that it became something that never could be confused for anything else. Yes, I was there for Fruition, but it was the delight of seeing something completely new that brought the week to an amazing close.

New Years – secular or religious – are about fresh starts. Seeing 5 shows in 5 venues in 5 days to start out 5778 was a perspective changer. The fires and the storms and the threat of war are still going to be there, but what’s the point of surviving all of that if we lose who we are. Yes, it’s a time to be alert and to help where you can, but it’s also one where you have to take time for yourself.

Why do we do this? When everything is falling apart, why spend our time and money to go see music? Greensky (with a little help from Jay, Mimi, and Kellen) answered that on the Rocks. As the chilly rain continued to fall, they sang words that resonate:

We are singing to comfort pain.
We all want to feel high again.
If my path is to worry, then I walk in shame,
‘Cause I’d rather find beauty in pain.

It’s going to be weird for a while to come now but as long as great people perform amazing music, we might just survive this.

[1] American Heritage Dictionary definitions

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David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He now tweets and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page

His book This Has All Been Wonderful is available on Amazon, the Kindle Store, and “his Create Space store.”: https://www.createspace.com/4667209

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