This weekend’s anticipated winter storm may have welched, but as always, Sam Bush Band delivered as promised, performing with his band Friday at Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room.
The newgrass quintet took the stage after a rousing opener from Milwaukee-based band Dead Horses, kicking off the show with “Play by Your Own Rules” from Bush’s 2016 release “Storyman.”
“Good evening music lovers,” Sam called to the crowd amid roaring cheers. “You all ready for some cold weather?”
Bush and company played a wide variety of favorites, from classic favorites like “Riding That Bluegrass Train” and “Circles Around Me” to newer tunes like “Greenbriar” and “I Just Wanna Feel Something.” The band even played homage to late newgrass great John Hartford with a spirited, grunt-filled rendition of “Up On the Hill Where They Do the Boogie,” and also aired “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley,” by Robert Palmer.
Sam Bush Band’s trademark virtuosity was also on full display, with each member enjoying ample opportunity to showcase their picking skills through any number of extended instrumentals. The venue’s acoustics did the group full credit, pushing out the wall of sound with crystal clarity, each note ringing off of the high-vaulted ceiling like dancing rays of light.
Scott Vestal left no doubt as to why he is the most recent recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo & Bluegrass, putting on a clinic on the 5-string banjo, tearing through a dizzying array of picking styles and sounds and eliciting cheer after cheer from the crowd.
Stephen Mougin’s six-string was also busy, as usual, from deep and throaty strumming to rapid-fire picking runs. The band performed Mougin’s song “Dark Shadows,” with the guitarist earning a thorough applause for his song-writing skills.
Bush himself spent much of the night on mandolin, but switched over to fiddle for a run of tunes beginning with “It’s Not What You Think,” an instrumental co-written by all five band members. The King of Newgrass held court on both instruments, ripping off mando solos at a blistering pace, with his signature punchy, rhythmic tone underlying every note.
After a full night of string band music, the group finished things off with an encore of Bob Marley’s “One Love,” the familiar beat punctuated by mandolin and banjo with the crowd singing along joyfully. The group kicked up the tempo mid-way through a Vestal banjo solo, moving from mellow reggae to stomping bluegrass in just a few seconds, before returning to the original beat for a moving finish.
Many thanks to Sam Bush Band and the Crystal Bay crew for a delightful performance. Bush has made it clear that he intends to perform more in California in 2018, so Tahoe music fans can hope to see these cats back in town before too long.