Talented local bluegrass group gaining a crowd at Woodstock’s
It’s not your average pizza parlor gig. Don’t expect a giant mechanical rat in a straw hat sitting at a clanky piano. Thursday night at Woodstock’s is bluegrass night, and what you get is Greebo.
Now, I was told by Greebo guitarist/vocalist Bruce MacMillan that the word “greebo” means, in British slang, something like “a slovenly character who espouses the values of rock ‘n’ roll.” Well, it’s not exactly rock ‘n’ roll, though stand-up bassist/ vocalist Nate LaFranchi pushes it into that arena with tunes like Metallica’s “Motorbreath” and Frank Zappa’s “Camarillo Brillo"—but this Greebo ain’t slovenly.
Greebo is comprised of four young men—MacMillan, LaFranchi, fiddler John Wiederanders and Michael Ansolabehere on mandolin and vocals—playing a bunch of foot-stomping, hand-clapping tunes that inspire a whole heap of hootin', hollerin’ and dancin’ from the growing crowd of local Greebo fans.
Started back in late January by Woodstock’s manager Josh Reed (who used to play bass for hippie-country band Lee Vining, alongside Ansolabehere and Wiederanders), Thursday-night bluegrass with Greebo has become a buzzy scene in a short time. People of all ages show up and have a ball. Little kids are hopping about and swinging on the stools at the back of the room. Some people are watching the basketball game (sometimes, cheers for a great shot coincide with the end of a great solo!). Many people are there to socialize and listen to the music. The place is roomy … and darn near packed of late every Thursday night.
Greebo can play. Wiederanders’ fiddle playing is stellar. Well-schooled by his time playing on the streets of his hometown of Sacramento, in pubs in Ireland and with the local group Pub Scouts, Wiederanders is a brilliant component in this group (though on my most recent trip to Woodstock’s he was absent, on a much-needed trip to the coast).
Now, about LaFranchi’s bass playing: In Greebo, as with the various jazz groups he plays with around town, his bass work is both fun and serious, complicated and carefree. He slaps the daylights out of his doghouse with the best of ’em, and boy, if he wants to, he sure can play a lotta notes (check him out on Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues").
MacMillan, besides being a supremely able guitarist of a number of styles, is also one hell of a singer. Probably no young woman in the room would want to be the one whom MacMillan admonishes in “Bloodshot Eyes,” the Hank Penny country tune made famous in the early ‘50s by blues shouter Wynonie Harris: “Don’t roll those bloodshot eyes at me/ I can tell you’ve been out on a spree/ It’s plain that you’re lyin'/ When you say that you’ve been cryin'.”
And you can bet that when the sunny Ansolabehere is singing, in his superb hillbilly voice, “How Mountain Girls Can Love,” at least one gal in the room imagines herself a lovin’ mountain girl being “treat[ed] right, never wrong.”
On this last Wiederanders-less go-round with Greebo, his spot was satisfyingly filled by guest flutist Shigemi Minetaka (nice work on “Stomping at Decca"!), guest fiddler Amber Rolf (excellent roots complement to Ansolabehere’s voice), Chuck the guest mandolinist (solid player!) and Mike Wofchuck on djembe (cool!). “Mandolin (Madonna) Mike"'s version of “Like a Virgin” was excellent and wacky, as was his version of Gillian Welch’s “Orphan Girl.” And, my goodness, MacMillan’s rendition of Teddy Thompson’s (son of Richard Thompson) song “Psycho” ("You think I’m psycho, don’t you, Mama?"), was, well, crazy. I loved it.
This is great stuff. Go early. Stay late. Greebo plays at Woodstock’s every Thursday night from 9:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m.