When Greensky Bluegrass played at the Old St. Francis School in 2006, a security guard got punched in the face outside of the packed Father Luke's Room.
"It was a benchmark in our career," recalled singer and mandolin player Paul Hoffman. While Greensky's gigs are regularly rowdy with hippie-dancing, stoner-grass fans, there's typically very little face punching. But says Hoffman, "Someone wanted to see the band so bad that they punched a guy in the face." He adds, "we bought that security guard a beer at the end of the night."
With eight albums and 135 shows last year, including sold-out crowds in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York, Denver, Boulder, Portland and Seattle, Greensky has now more than surpassed even face-punch popularity. Hoffman recently spoke with The Source from his living room in Kalamazoo, Mich.—and, given the band's jammy philosophy, music packed to the gills with prickling mandolin, tinny slide guitar, and chugging chords backed by reliable baselines, I imagine him sitting in a bohemian den, covered in tapestries, hazy with smoke from nag champa incense and perhaps some dancing bear décor. That is, until I bring up Bruce Springsteen, and Hoffman tells me that he has an LP vinyl copy of The River sitting right in front of him. Okay. Now, I'm picturing that same living room, but in New Jersey.
"It's just classic," says Hoffman, whose wife suggested the band cover "Atlantic City," a song that is now a staple in the band's extensive repertoire, along with a rendition of "Dancing in the Dark."
"Are the lyrics to 'Dancing in the Dark' profound?" Hoffman asks, rhetorically. "Maybe not, but do you think about Courtney Cox dancing on stage when you play it? Yes. It's an American rock and roll classic."
Mixing traditional bluegrass picking, a love for the classics and the jam band philosophy—different day, differnet set—as well as peppering performances with diverse covers, Greensky Bluegrass is genre defiant, and Hoffman is proud of it.
"I've been examining the line between bluegrass and non-bluegrass for so long that I'm not sure where, or if it exists," Hoffman says with a laugh.
Using a mix of new studio technologies and old recording equipment, the group is currently working on its eighth album. Like their live performances, Hoffman says that it is the imperfection and variance in Greensky's recordings that gives the music a sense of character.
"We intentionally use crappier gear [to record]," explains Hoffman. "Sometimes it costs more money to use old gear. People are realizing that 100 percent accuracy is not always better."
Hoffman sees bluegrass recording as a genre obsessed with perfection, clean to the point that recordings can be gutted of authenticity.
"It's like photography, there's a characteristic of a photograph that's lost because it's too realistic and vivid. The same goes for music. Somehow, less good is more good. If recording was a microcosm for life, people could learn a lot."
Sun., Mar. 2, 8 pm
Domino Room, 51 NW Greenwood Ave.
Tumbleweed Wanderers open.