When Greensky Bluegrass last came to town to play the Agora at the start of 2020, it had just wrapped up one of its best years ever. Early in 2019, it released the studio album, All for Money, and on a tour in support of the disc, it played three shows at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. That year also saw the second year of the band’s summer festival, Camp Greensky. Acts such as Del & Dawg (Del McCoury and David Grisman), Stephen Marley, Billy Strings, Hiss Golden Messenger and Circles Around the Sun performed at the event.
The pandemic brought activity to a screeching halt, but this year, the band hopes to return to the road in grand fashion.
A lengthy winter tour brings it back to the Agora on Feb. 3.
“That January 2020 tour is still our last big tour,” says bassist Mike Devol via phone from his Santa Cruz home. “We’ve been busy playing festivals and doing this and that. We were really in the zone on that tour. I’m from Akron and grew up in Manchester, a little school district just south of Akron. I did a fair amount of hanging out in Cleveland too and played cello in the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra. I played at Severance Hall a bunch of times, and I got a little Cleveland pride.”
The group continued that 2020 tour until COVID essentially shut the music industry down.
“We had just played a gig in Tucson or Phoenix in March of 2020, and I flew from there to a family ski vacation in Park City, Utah,” says Devol. “We were watching the COVID thing crash down. We had Florida dates coming up. It wasn’t the biggest deal to cancel that Florida tour, but then it was one thing after another after another. We were going to play in Australia in April of 2020. I had this whole vacation planned. I had a bunch of shit planned, and the universe was like, ‘No.’ It was a total shutdown for 15 months. In the end, the band could continue, and I feel very fortunate about that. We were in a position where we could survive.”
The band intended to work on a new album in the fall of 2020, but when tour dates were cancelled, the group immediately shifted its focus to writing songs and started sharing demos with one another on a Google drive. In the end, it came up with 20 tunes that would wind up as contenders for a new album.
In August of 2020, the band spent a week in Colorado at a rental house in Winter Park. And then, in September of 2020, it started recording in Guilford, VT and in Asheville, NC with frequent collaborator “and old friend” Dominic John Davis as producer and “wizard engineer” Glenn Brown mixing.
“It was incredible,” says Devol of the studio sessions. “We hadn’t seen each other all year, and my only music playing was that intense week in July. It was hard not to feel out of shape. It’s one thing to write songs at a casual place or play my bass by myself. There’s no way to really prepare for what it’s like to play in the band with that kind of energy for five hours. This album is different because we weren’t physically together for long amounts of time during its development, but it’s still very Greensky to me.”
The resulting album, Stress Dreams, comes out later this month. Led by the uplifting, mandolin-driven single “Grow Together,” it features 13 new tunes.
“Paul Hoffman, our mandolin player, wrote [‘Grow Together’], and it’s about his love for his partner and his daughter, but I think it’s about the band too,” says Devol. “It's a positive song, and I get emotional playing it, especially knowing about Paul’s journey as a father. When I play that song, that’s a lot of where my heart is. Paul is my best friend, and we’ve only become closer through our parenting bonds.”
The album’s title track, a song by Devol, who has songwriting credits on the album for the first time, finds the band venturing into moodier musical territory.
“Everybody just loved the song,” says Devol when asked how it became the title track. “I think content-wise, the guys felt connected to it. It’s become a COVID anthem. There’s this great arc to the song, and it tells a story that we all got into. That was a favorite tune among the new stuff and marks a new sound for the band. It was a favorite among the band and began to take a center stage role in what the album was becoming.”
Returning to the road will be a significant moment for the group, and Devol says he couldn’t be more excited to have new songs to share with fans.
“Greensky is really a live band,” he says. “It’s heavily based on what we do live. We have a big production sound and an awesome light show. It’s an adventure. On tour, we play four or five nights a week, and you get into this compounding thing where you build on what happened the night before. Going out and doing that again will be exciting.”
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