In 2009, the Johnstown Folk Fest got a name change and a new focus. Since then, the crowds flocking to Peoples Natural Gas Park have grown, and the musical lineups have gotten more high profile. It can’t be denied that Johnstown’s Ameriserv Flood City Music Festival is on a hot streak.
This weekend, the festival caters — as it usually does — to fans of Americana, blues, jazz and country. The artists on the bill, however, are all but eager to push those genres out of their comfort zones.
Greensky Bluegrass, of Kalamazoo, Mich., has gained acclaimed for utilizing bluegrass instrumentation in non-bluegrass contexts. Many of the quintet’s original numbers situate contemporary song structures within a bluegrass framework. Cover songs by bands includingthe Talking Heads and Bob Marley are subject to interpretations.
Bass player Mike Devol credits Greensky’s strong musicianship to a sort of “lateral leadership” within the band.
“I really loved playing in stringed quartets,” said Devol, a classically trained cellist. “I loved the way the music moved without the outright leadership of one person. I feel the same way making music with my (Greensky) bandmates. No one person is dictating the tempo or energy of the music. Instead, we all come together in our playing to make one greater thing — the sound of a whole band playing together as a marriage of all our different contributions.”
Greensky Bluegrass will perform two sets during the festival.
“Greensky is capable of performing in a lot of different ways,” Devol said. “Our sets aren’t only made up of our ‘jammy’ numbers but also some traditional bluegrass numbers, a cover or two and mostly our original songs. We try to give our audience a little bit of everything. ... We mix it up for ourselves as much as we do for our fans’ varied tastes.”
Meanwhile, State College’s favorite sons, the Kalob Griffin Band, headline the Spangler Subaru side stage Aug. 3.
Affectionately dubbed “KGB,” the Philly-based quintet features four Penn State graduates: singer/guitarist Griffin, guitarist Rob Dwyer, pianist John Hildenbrand and drummer Eric Lawry. Jonathan Davenport, a Berklee School of Music alum, rounds out the lineup on bass.
“(The Americana) genre is all over the place, but we’re aiming to carve out our own form of it,” Hildenbrand said.
The KGB frequently deviates from their country-folk roots sound with ease; “Oh Good Woman” has touches of ’60s psychedelic garage-rock, while the sprawling, moody jam “Ricky Tick Tack” could be a distant redneck cousin of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
The quintet has a self-itled EP and one full-ength record, “June Found A Gun,” to their credit. Hildenbrand said new music is on the horizon.
“We are very close to releasing three new songs. ... ‘June’ took a lot of time, and doing a full-length album isn’t easy. This time around we were able to focus on the details much easier than before.”