The multi-award-winning musician brings his band to Grand Rapids’ St. Cecilia Music Center next week. The Local Spins interview, with videos and more.
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With more than a half-century of performances and numerous awards under his belt, renowned bluegrass mandolinist and fiddler Sam Bush knows more than a thing or two about cultivating talent, sharing expertise and negotiating the thorny thicket of the music business.
After all, the 69-year-old known as “the king” of Colorado’s prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival has collaborated over the years with legends such as Doc Watson, David Grisman, Bela Fleck, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Jerry Douglas.
So not surprisingly, Bush feels “very protective” of young, up-and-coming phenoms such as the Michigan-bred Billy Strings, a Grammy Award-winning guitarist whose latest album has sparked yet another sold-out national tour and led to an in-depth profile in The New York Times.
“I really love the guy and we’ve become friends,” Bush told Local Spins. “I’m very protective of young people when they start getting a lot of applause. I don’t want them to get too serious about themselves, right? He (Billy) doesn’t take himself too seriously.
“Every time I hear him, he is improving. He strives to improve. When I saw him at (Michigan’s) Hoxeyville Music Festival, I was knocked out. One of the things that I love the most about him is that he respects the traditions of … Doc Watson and the flatpicking guitar.”
The Kentucky native also appreciates the “experimentation” that Billy Strings and his band bring to the table when it comes to exploring the boundaries of bluegrass and beyond. “He’s carrying the torch pretty well, and I’m really happy for him.”
For his part, Bush – who plays St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids on Wednesday (Oct. 6) – has been “carrying the torch” for bluegrass since he was a teenager winning awards for his instrumental wizardry while pushing the envelope of the genre himself: He’s considered a pioneer in the progressive bluegrass field and a founder of the renowned New Grass Revival in the 1970s.
“You know, when I was a kid, people would say, ‘That ain’t bluegrass.’ And we’d go, ‘Yes, we know. You’re right,’ ” Bush recalls.
“People will say I’m not really a bluegrass fan, but I like you guys. Well, let us be your introduction to this style of music. You may need to hear us first, and then go back and dig into Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley and Jimmy Martin and Flatt & Scruggs – you know, go back and dig into the originators of this music.”
Bush himself embraced the music of Eric Clapton first before burrowing down to check out seminal guitarists Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, the bluesmen who influenced the rock guitar icon.
‘THE WORLD HAS OPENED UP’ FOR BLUEGRASS AND ITS CONTEMPORARY VARIATIONS
The mandolinist and fiddler also is pleased to see the way progressive bluegrass artists have attracted a new, young and hip audience to the genre.
“It wasn’t that way when I was a kid. If anything, people in Kentucky were trying not to be hillbillies,” says Bush, who also relished the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Cream, along with his country and bluegrass heroes.
“It’s so great that the world has opened up this much … for acoustic music and bluegrass in general.”
It’s also great, he concedes, that he and his band – drummer Chris Brown, guitarist Stephen Mougin, bassist Todd Parks and banjoist Wes Corbett – have been able to get back on the road while following COVID protocols after a pandemic-impaired year.
“Positive energy is really what we’re about,” says Bush, who has an untitled new album “in the can” and who’s also featured in a recently resurrected live album by Emmylou Harris and The Nash Ramblers, “Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert,” from a show originally recorded in the 1990s.
Bush says fans attending the Acoustic Café Folk Series show at St. Cecilia’s Royce Auditorium will hear “contemporary music played on traditional bluegrass instruments” with “a pretty wide variety within the styles that these instruments can accomplish.”
“Once we get our musical groove going, and it usually happens pretty quickly, then the audience can join and be part of that musical fun,” he insists.
“That’s what I call the circle of communication, where we get that going. It’ll be a positive energy show.”
Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 show are $40-$45, and available online here. St. Cecilia requires concert attendees to show proof that they’re fully vaccinated or proof of a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours for anyone 12 or older. The venue also requires concertgoers “to wear a mask while in the building.”
VIDEO: Sam Bush, Wes Corbett, Stephen Mougin, “East Virginia Blues”
VIDEO: Sam Bush, “Stop the Violence”
LISTEN: Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, “Cincinnati Rag” at Telluride 2021
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