A Bad Jew Goes to Kalamazoo: The Power of Music & Community

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Greensky Bluegrass @ Bell’s Brewery – September 25

Even though it was Kol Nidre – the evening of the Jewish High Holiday of Yom Kippur and to many the holiest occasion on the Jewish calendar – I drove across Michigan to show support for a music community that has become another part of my huge extended music family. Less than two weeks prior, I had gotten word via Facebook that Greensky Bluegrass would be throwing a benefit show for their close friend Janice Farrell who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. No stranger to benefit shows, Greensky had just performed a few days earlier at the Bluegrass for Babies benefit in Cincinnati. But this night was clearly far more personal for the members of Camp Greensky. Holding a benefit concert with less than two weeks notice is no small feat, but the community that rallied (and continues to) around Janice and the Farrell family was impressive, to say the least.

[Photos by Andrew Bender of Greensky @ Bell’s in February]

Normally, Greensky’s hometown shows at Bell’s Brewery are incredible parties of family, fans, friends and beer. In contrast, Tuesday night’s show at Bell’s Back Room was by far the most sober-toned Greensky show I’ve seen or heard. As Janice watched from home via webcast, the band played two sets of her favorite Greensky originals and covers. Mandolin player and vocalist Paul Hoffman noted in some amusement that Janice’s song list included mostly Greensky tunes penned or sung by guitarist Dave Bruzza.

Originals ranged the band’s own songbook from older songs like Roberta and Grow Bananas to newer favorites like Demons, Kerosene and the improv vehicle Don’t Lie. But truthfully, the show featured more covers than originals, including traditional bluegrass songs like Pig in a Pen, Shady Grove and Steam Powered Aeroplane as well as newgrass hits like show opener Climbing Up a Mountain by Tim O’Brien and Newgrass Revival’s Can’t Stop Now. And of course, true to Greensky there were plenty of psychedelic, folk, and pop covers like Pink Floyd’s Time, Springsteen’s Atlantic City, Talking Heads’ Road to Nowhere, Prince’s When Doves Cry, and an insane Grateful Deadwich that led from a Birdsong tease into Cassidy > Cryptical Envelopment > The Other One  > Cassidy.

Musically, the Farrell Family benefit show could go down as one of the best Greensky Bluegrass shows to date. And though I’m not religious (clearly), I found something spiritual at Bell’s that night in a room full of people, gathered together out of love and community, their thoughts and prayers directed toward a higher purpose, the room’s energy being channeled and directed from the stage. It’s hard not to think of it as a place of prayer and worship, (and of course beer and music). Having raised over $10,000 for the Janice Farrell Fund, the evening was a testament to the power of music and community.

For any fans of Greensky Bluegrass, this was a truly a phenomenal show, impeccably performed, but with such different energy borne of sadness, anger, hope and human futility.

I encourage people to both check out this show, and echo the band’s and the Farrell family’s appeal to contribute something toward the fund for Janice and her family. The band, their crew, Bell’s Brewery and so many people contributed their time, energy and money to make the event a success. The band allowed a soundboard patch and both audience and SBD recordings of the show are currently available for streaming or download on the live music archive. If you like the show, please consider donating something to the fund in Janice’s name.

Monetary contributions to the Farrell family can be made to:

Janice Farrell Fund

c/o Greensky Bluegrass

P.O. Box 51413

Kalamazoo, MI49007

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