Sam Bush hits it out of the park at Crystal Bay

Tahoe Onstage

The Sam Bush Band jams in the Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room on Friday, Nov. 3.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Clare Foster

October has come, the leaves have turned, and Sam Bush’s fancy has turned to baseball.

“Really, I’m just happy the playoffs are here,” he said.

Tahoe Onstage is able to exclusively confirm that Bush’s outgoing voicemail features the bluegrass great rendering a commendable imitation of famed Chicago Cubs announcer Harey Carey.

“Man, that’s right, I need to get Harry off there, the Cubs didn’t make it,” Bush said. The Houston Astros won the World Series, 4 games to 3, as Bush was making his way to Tahoe, winding down its spring and summer touring season. He appeared at Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room on Friday, Nov. 3, before playing a series of dates in California and up the West Coast.

Tahoe Onstage“We haven’t been out in California for a while so it’s nice to get back up and get back out again,” Bush said. “I’m just glad to be completing the festival season, it’s actually a great time of year where we get to do what we love, which is sound checks. We’re back indoors with sound checks, it’s wonderful.”

Sam Bush Band is Bush (mandolin, fiddle), Stephen Mougin (guitar), Scott Vestal (banjo), Todd Parks (upright and electric bass) and Chris Brown (drums). The group had its usual busy touring season in 2017, including regular appearances at Merlefest, Rockygrass and Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

“Of course Telluride in Colorado is obviously one of my favorites to get to play,” he said. “I was at my 43rd consecutive, I won’t say straight, that might not be accurate, but 43 consecutive, so that’s been fun.”

The band has been primarily playing material from “Storyman,” Bush’s 2016 release, but will be mixing up the set list for upcoming shows.

“If anything now that ‘Storyman’ has been out for a little while, especially for the West Coast, I’ll be looking back at the old catalog and digging up a few New Grass songs here and there,” he said. “New Grass Revival songs, and some other stuff from other earlier records, try to pull out something that we haven’t been playing for a few years.”

“Storyman” was a notable record in that it was the first release by Bush on which he had written or co-written every tune. After the last several months on the road, he is keen to return to his songwriting.

“I’m continuing to write, though I haven’t been the last couple of months,” he said. “But you know, that’s part of the touring part; now once we get to about the middle of November we won’t be on the road as much the rest of the year, so that’s when I start calling my buddies, see who wants to get together and do some writing.”

Bush already has his sights set on his next record, although he wouldn’t say a peep as to what it entails.

“I’ve got some plans to start recording, but until someone says they’ll put it out I’m not saying what it is,” he said with a chuckle.

He has been in studio of lat, however, assisting one of his bandmates with an intriguing project.

“Scott Vestal has his own studio, and when we’re not on the road spends all his time in it either recording other people or working on his own tunes,” Bush said. “He’s been working on this outrageous record for years, for a couple of years now, where he kind of plays everything. With his synthesizer knowledge and his five string banjo synthesizer he’s got, he can make all kind of sounds.”

Bush contributed mandolin to a number of tracks earlier this month, and was floored by what he heard.

“I went up and spent all day playing on some tunes for Scott for a record, and I gotta tell you, it’s some of the most interesting music I’ve ever heard played,” he said. “These solos that he’s done for some of these songs on his banjo, I was numbed when I left. It was just great.”

Vestal also earned a notable accolade this year, as the recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.

“We were onstage at Rockygrass, and Pete Wernick from Hot Rize is one of the voting members of that board there, and so it was the first time that the award had actually been presented to someone onstage at one of their gigs,” Bush said. “You know, usually it’s done by mail and notified by phone call, so it was a big surprise for Scott. He’s really deserving and it’s just been a real good thing for him.”

Looking ahead, Bush aims to spend more time on the West Coast next year.

“One thing I do want to do is definitely come back to California in the year of ’18, I want to play in California more,” he said. “I haven’t played Southern California a lot.”

For now, in between autumn gigs and muddy yard projects, Bush was content to watch the rest of the World Series play out, avidly enjoying both of the remaining clubs.

– Josh Sweigert

Clare Foster / Tahoe Onstage

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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