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Storyman — Sam Bush at WinterWonderGrass

March 31 to April 2, Olympic Valley
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INFO: $166.24/three day pass, $96.95/Saturday only; March 31 to April 2; Squaw Valley; 1960 Squaw Valley Rd.; (800) 403-0206;

Sam Bush, 64, answers the phone at his home studio in West Nashville with a familiar chuckle and a genuine, “How you doing?”

“I’m putting strings and instruments together and counting my flatpicks,” he says. “We’re going on a trip tonight, leaving at midnight for Aspen, Colo. It’s our first bus run of the year.”

After the tour winds the band through the Rocky Mountains and a string of “Midwest baseball towns,” as he puts it, Bush will make his way out to Olympic Valley to headline WinterWonderGrass Tahoe on April Fool’s Day.

“We guarantee music, and that’s all,” Bush jokes.

Bush is touring in support of his latest album, Storyman, which was released last June on Sugar Hill Records.

“Apparently, I hadn’t put one out in six or seven years,” he says. “I’m well aware people buy songs one at a time now, but for me, it’s still an album of songs.”

For his ninth album since leaving American roots music pioneers New Grass Revival for a solo career, Bush reconnected with his musical friends from over the years to turn some old stories into songs.

During the early ’90s, Bush played mandolin and fiddle for country queen Emmylou Harris and The Nash Ramblers. For Storyman, the two old friends reconnected for a historical reflection they call “hand mics killed country music.”

“Emmylou and I had a jovial thought,” Bush says. “It’s just the idea that country music changed a lot when the singers stopped playing guitar and started using handheld microphones, and people became more aware of the camera. Emmylou still plays her guitar and we like people who play the guitar.”

Bush also cowrote a few songs with his own band for the first time, including opening track Play By Your Own Rules and a pair of instrumentals.
“[Guitarist] Stephen Mougin and I put that one together on kind of a positive thought that can apply to anyone: to play by your own rules,” Bush says. “The line was inspired somewhere up around Vermont during the most blinding rainstorm I’ve ever seen.”

Before becoming a professional touring musician and recording artist, Bush grew up on a tobacco and cattle farm outside of Bowling Green, Ky. One day Bush’s old buddy, Nash Rambler guitarist John Randall Stewart, showed up to his place with a unique song idea.

“The one called Bowling Green is so true to life,” Bush said. “It’s about a father’s love of fiddle music. My father loved fiddle playing more than anything. He was a farmer and we’d often plow tobacco in the hottest part of June … It had me and [my wife] Lynn tearing up right off the bat.”
It was the constant sound of traditional music being played at home that inspired Bush to pursue a career in music from a young age. He was the junior national champion old-time fiddler from 1967 to 1969 before moving to Louisville to join Bluegrass Alliance, which eventually morphed into New Grass Revival.

“I fell in love with the sounds in the house,” Bush recalls. “We’d listen to the fiddler Tommy Jackson. We’d listen to the Grand Old Opry. We lived close enough to Nashville that if you climbed on the roof and adjusted the antennae just the right way we could watch it [Grand Old Opry] on the TV.”

At WinterWonderGrass Tahoe, Bush is looking forward to performing in the wide-open California mountains and collaborating with the host of musicians that will join him in Squaw Valley for a special weekend.

“It’s a pretty free kind of feeling,” he says. “I realize my age and how long I’ve been doing this. I don’t see myself as a father figure, but maybe I could be more of the nutty uncle or something. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years and some of them might cite me as an influence, but I can’t say. All I know is I’m always open for new pals and I enjoy being included in their music.”

As far as any words of advice for aspiring bluegrass musicians out there, Bush believes the most important thing is to stay true to yourself.

“I think as you continue to play your instruments, try to remember what it is that caused you to fall in love with these acoustic sounds, because as you try to make a living, the music business is not always kind, but the music itself is,” he said.

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January 10, 2019