Bluegrass was only the beginning.
Athens, Georgia’s Grassland String Band began their journey at a bluegrass jam, when singer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Lesousky wowed vocalist and banjo player Jody Daniels with his talent. The two of them decided to make music together, and GSB was born. A few years later, they’d grown into a multi-generational six-piece band (spanning in age from 26 to 61) that boasts members with master’s degrees in classical organ and guitar; a jazz-influenced, improvisational live performance style; and a lead singer whose sound was as at home fronting a soul band as when he was backed by a fiddle.
You would never have put together a band like this using a formula.
In the months after their meeting, Daniels and Lesousky rounded out their line-up to include Nathan Elder on bass, Todd Ferguson on drums, fiddler Adam Poulin, and classical guitarist Kevin Fleming. With that growing base of musical knowledge, GSB’s sound expanded to touch on Americana, jazz, pop and folk — a hybrid the group called Amerigrass.
Before the Feast, GSB’s debut album released in the summer of 2014, presented a survey of what Amerigrass had to offer. Opener “Clara” is all boisterous vocal interplay and fine string-pickin’, a glimpse into the group’s palpable chemistry and virtuosic musicianship. A few tracks later, Lesousky’s impressive pipes take center stage on the love song, “Neil Young” as the backing band mellows into a supporting role that could almost be called stripped-down by comparison if it wasn’t so rich with sound. In a live performance released as their 2nd album recorded from the EOP Red Clay Music Foundry (Duluth, Ga) the band began incorporating new material, like “Boom Boom,” in which Daniels takes center stage. Clearly having one hell of a good time, he leads the band through a soulful number about the need “to kick down the door, children!” over Fleming’s bluesy, electric guitar. Clearly the band was in control of its unique sound and headed to success.
In the fall of 2016, the band released the Echo Mountain Sessions EP, recorded during an epic January snowstorm in Asheville. The album, named after the famed studio in which the recording took place, elevated the band to yet another level in its journey. The EP received much praise and recognition.
In November 2016, Lesousky eager to start a solo career moved to Nashville and Elder moved to Virginia where his wife landed a teaching position. But the band, determined to keep making great music, quickly found its feet. Derek Warren joined the band on bass, and following an extensive search, the band found Tonya Scott, an exciting change that will surely keep pushing the band toward new heights.
At live shows, all these elements are turned up to eleven. This is not a show you’ll see fans chatting through. The crowd yells “woo”s of encouragement. They slap their thighs. They sing along. They dance. The band’s chemistry positively fills the room as they grin their way through the set, extending some of their tracks into improvised jams. Does it look a little like bluegrass? Sure, it has a banjo, a fiddle and a mandolin on occasion. But there is a drum kit, and now, a keyboard. It’s something more, something modern and amorphous. If this is Amerigrass, I think I like it.