Sam Bush kicks out the stops ahead of High Sierra

Clare Foster / Tahoe Onstage

“Revival: The Sam Bush Story” was released in February.

With a knapsack full of new releases and a rapidly filling festival schedule, Sam Bush and his band are unquestionably excited for 2019.

The Sam Bush Band is Bush (mandolin, fiddle), Stephen Mougin (guitar), Scott vestal (banjo), Todd Parks (bass) and Chris Brown (drums).

The new year sees a full slate of work for Bush, from a number of recording projects to a freshly aired documentary all about the King of Newgrass.

Released in February, the DVD release featuring added music, “Revival: The Sam Bush Story” is the product of years of work by filmmakers Chris Wheeler and Wayne Franklin. The project recently won Best Music Documentary at Nashville Film Festival.

Bush sat for hours of interviews and contributed music to the project, over which he did not seek or request any creative control. He is quite pleased with and proud of the project, the initial viewing of which he described with his characteristic touch of self-deprecatory humor.

“It was very odd, I’m sitting in the theater with some of the people who were talking about me up on camera, and then seeing your own big nose up on screen,” he chuckled. “It’s kind of like being at your own wake or something. But the good part is, I lived in the end.”

Bush also is anticipating the release of a single track, done in a much different style from what Sam Bush Band fans may be used to.

“One thing that’s been happening is my and the band, we have an electric side to us where we plug in,” he said. “So I play the Fender electric mandolin, I have a 1956 Fender. Steven plays electric guitar and Scott plays synthesizer.”

Written and recorded with friend and fellow musician/songwriter Jeff Black from Nashville, the song is a one-off project, airing a strongly held sentiment of Black and Bush.

“Jeff and I were thinking about the violence in society, mean-spirited entertainment, what have you,” Bush said. “So we wrote song called “Stop the Violence.”It’s a rock slam song. We started playing it onstage about a year ago and people, they’re agreeing with me.

“So, it’s not political, I’m not trying to be preachy or political. It’s just that that’s what Jeff and I would like to see, a less violent society.”

The group recorded the track in December and shot a music video in January. While he isn’t considering expanding on this new approach, Bush thoroughly enjoyed laying down some rock-oriented tracks.

“It’s a type of music that I haven’t recorded before necessarily. It’s just slam-ass rock ‘n roll,” he said.

The project also gave him an excuse to get out his electric mandolin.

“I’ve always been a Fender player, I’ve always loved them,” he said. “When I was a kid, a buddy of mine had one and I was always trying to play it. I always played guitar, played rock ‘n roll guitar in high school. So what I’ve always tried to do with it, of course you have mandolin knowledge that you use, but you really need to play it like an electric guitar.”

Bush has also enjoyed seeing fellow mando pickers adopt the unorthodox instrument.

“I’m really happy that now there’s people like Sierra Hall and Ronnie McCoury playing them onstage a little bit, too,” he said.

Looking ahead, Bush and company are raring to get back in studio with their usual, acoustic lineup, and begin work on a new album.

“I’ve got some plans for the next record, I’m anxious to get that started too,” Bush said, while remaining mum on any further details.

Outside of a full slate of impending and prospective releases, Bush is just happy to be scheduling his favorite part of the year: festival season.

“My mind’s already going, ‘what do I want to play at MerleFest? What do I want to play at these others?’” he said.

While much of the bluegrass scene is focused on the summer months, for these hardy performers, festival season already has begun.

“We’re looking forward to getting out there to WinterWonderGrass. We’ve already done a couple of outdoor jobs in Colorado in January, so we’re ready for you,” Bush said. “We’ve got all our layers — no matter what the weather, we’ll be there ready to play.”

— Josh Sweigert

About Josh Sweigert

Josh grew up on the California coast with a deep appreciation for bluegrass and string band music as well as the great outdoors. A guitarist and singer, he plays solo acoustic gigs in South Lake Tahoe.

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