This week’s Song of the Week is “While Waiting” by Greensky Bluegrass.
About Greensky Bluegrass:
One of my favorite bands, bar none, Greensky Bluegrass is a progressive bluegrass quintet that hails from Kalamazoo, Michigan – or in other words – they hail from last place most people think of when they think of bluegrass music. Kalamazoo, however, is known for several other things innovative things outside of being the founding city of Greensky. Particularly, it being home to excellent Bell’s Brewery, which played a small part in Greensky’s meteoric rise from a local Michigan progressive bluegrass band to an international festival headliner wherever they go, by being the recording site of their 2007 live CD release titled, Live at Bells.
Greensky Bluegrass was formed in the year 2000 by Paul Hoffman, Dave Bruzza, and Michael Arlen Bont. From open mic nights and living room shows across the midwest to touring nationally by 2005, Greensky won their huge break as the 2006 winners of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition which earned them a spot on the main stage at the 2007 festival. In 2008 the band released Five Interstates, which is easily one of my favorite albums of all time, and the rest is pretty much history.
If you want to get into an excellent band that gets bigger and better with every single year, check out Greensky Bluegrass. You won’t be disappointed.
About “While Waiting”:
If you are someone who is drenched in wanderlust and lives for the road, this song will make complete sense to you. If you’re someone in a band who has spent sixteen years on the road, this song will be a carbon copy of your thoughts.
While Waiting is a mysterious chorus shrouded in verse which depict a life atop rolling wheels, replete with the love for the bits of places you see and people you meet – the fractions of paradise seen through a windshield – left only to be reposited at the point of departure, heart and suitcase in hand, longing to see the roads, places and faces left behind in the dust and churned gravel now settling sadly down behind you. It’s so easy to go and come back, but once a place grabs you, like a monster, it never lets go. Paul Hoffman, Greensky’s vocalist and mandolin player seems to have a firm handle on this, and it’s a tale as old as time. In fact, Thomas Jefferson – yes, that Thomas Jefferson, warned his nephew, Peter Carr, of the very affliction mentioned in While Waiting, attributed to those who wander:
Travelling. This makes men wiser, but less happy. […] They are subject ever after to recollections mixed with regret; their affections are weakened by being extended over more objects; & they learn new habits which cannot be gratified when they return home. […] The glare of pomp and pleasure is analogous to the motion of the blood; it absorbs all their affection and attention, they are torn from it as from the only good in this world, and return to their home as to a place of exile & condemnation. Their eyes are forever turned back to the object they have lost, & its recollection poisons the residue of their lives. Their first & most delicate passions are hackneyed on unworthy objects here, & they carry home the dregs, insufficient to make themselves or anybody else happy.
In Jefferson’s time, travel admittedly was a lot more complicated than it is now – so affections being “extended over more objects” were a lot fewer than what we are able to experience today. It’s possible to safely see more and be home in shorter time, which likely exacerbates the issue that Jefferson is writing about.
The song begins with Hoffman telling us that he has lived near home for thirty years and that he is considering moving away. But he is filled with reservations that he wishes would just resolve themselves so he is considering writing out a letter to empty his mind, just to see what comes out on paper (I’d imagine it was this song).
The verse is followed by Hoffman telling us about how the places he has been affects him and how he’s aware that there’s a part of every place that is great, however he’s looking deeper to find out which place is truly the best, followed by the mystery chorus:
While we’re waiting I feel vulnerable,
With no one chasing I don’t know where to go
Maybe it’s because the song is already so open, honest and intimate it was necessary to put something intensely personal into it. As far as instrumentation goes, this is about as bare bones as Greensky Bluegrass can get. Hoffman sat down with Pollstar.com for an interview about the new album in October, 2016 and in the interview, when asked what his favorite track was, mentions While Waiting saying:
There’s a slow song on the album called “While Waiting,” which I’ve probably listened to the most because it’s got this restraint. It doesn’t even have all the instruments on it for the whole tune.
Regardless if it’s the relatability, or the restraint as Hoffman puts it, that draws you to this tune, it’s no matter. Greensky Bluegrass have songs like While Waiting lining the track listings on each of their albums. So whatever reason draws you to this song, Greensky can and will deliver more of it in their discography. I urge everyone to check out Greensky and go see a live show – I’ll see you there! I’ll be the one dancing, front and center.