“King of Telluride” returns to 40th Telluride Bluegrass

The "King of Telluride," Sam Bush

“King of Telluride” returns to 40th Telluride Bluegrass

The "King of Telluride," Sam Bush

The “King of Telluride,” Sam Bush

In Telluride, he is royalty, but please, hold the drum rolls and cornets. The accoutrements of this king differ from ordinary kings with their thrones and scepters. This king, “The King of Telluride,” perches on a stage and holds a mandolin. We are talking about Sam Bush, Sam the Man.

Throughout his 30-year+ career which began when he was a teen, by ignoring orthodoxy, Sam Bush has done as much as anyone since Bill Monroe to put his instrument on the map. The way he dug in, plucked and strummed, and never mind what he played, added new power and syncopation to the mandolin’s percussive chops. Sam’s harmonic vocabulary continues to cross musical boundaries, fusing the instrument’s more traditional sounds with jazz, rock, blues, funk, reggae and whatever other sounds entered his busy head. For Sam, it’s all good. (For us too.)

Sam Bush is a trailblazer and a long-time guest (39 years and counting) of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Wednesday, June 19 – Sunday, June 23, 2013, the 40th anniversary celebration. Once again and as always, Sam will be everywhere you want to be, but count on The King and his house band to perform Saturday night, June 22, 8 – 10 p.m. and again Sunday night, when his house band –  Bela, Jerry, Edgar, Bryan and Stuart –puts a cap on the weekend.

Sam grew up with Planet Bluegrass: the history of the Festival from tie-dyed funky to world-class hip is the history of the performer. And like the event, the musician shows no signs of losing ground.

One of Sam’s earliest and perhaps his most famous band, the genre-bending New Grass Revival, visited Telluride for the first time in 1975, at the 2nd annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival:

“I remember J.B. and Helen Matteotti, John “Picker” Herndon, Kooster McAllister, and Fred Shellman, the Festival’s organizers. They were all as excited as little kids about their event and about us. They had first seen NGR at the National Picking Contest in Winfield, Kansas. It became their dream to have our band at their event. Once in Telluride, ‘hospitable’ would be a light term for how they treated us. They would have given us the shirts off their backs. Instead, they gave us their smiles and their hearts. Their loving spirit spilled out into the audience. We were long-haired hippie guys trying to play our special brand of music. At other bluegrass festivals, promoters threw us up on stage at one o’clock in the morning and the older folks in lawn chairs would pack up when we came on. But Telluride was different. I don’t recall ever being treated so warmly. There may have been just over 1,000 people in the crowd, who let us know how much they liked our kind of weird. The weirder we were, the more they danced and cheered. Telluride seemed up for anything. Since then, I’ve grown up with the Bluegrass Festival. I’ve watched it grow and change as I have grown and changed. But one thing remains the same: In Telluride, the crowd is still up for anything.”

Sam’s trademark instrumental virtuosity coupled with heartfelt vocals, articulate arrangements and a raconteur’s tongue-in-cheek sensibility won the day for him and his band-mates. And some things never change.

Now skirting 60, Sam Bush is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, who does not seem old enough to be a legend. Legend or no, The King of Telluride is a performer who has already been honored for his lasting contributions to the industry by the Americana Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association.

“It goes along with the title cut of my latest album, Circles Around Me, which basically says: How in the hell did we get this far? In my brain I’m still 17, but I look in the mirror and I’m, well...”

Sam Bush, King of Telluride, is the new Bill Monroe, the one emerging legends such as Chris Thile, Wayne Benson, Shawn Lane, Matt Flinner, Ronnie McCoury, and Mike Marshall look up to. The one who, with his New Grass Revival, planted the seeds for bands such as Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band to name just a few successors, also in the line-up for the 40th.

Sam Bush has played with just about everyone worth playing with, from Emmylou Harris (he joined her Nash Ramblers in 1989 just after New Grass Revival shut down) and Bela Fleck to Charlie Haden, Lyle Lovett, and Garth Brooks, not to mention his heroes: Monroe, Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs. As a session musician, Sam has been featured on recordings by artists as diverse as Alabama, Guy Clark, Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss and Neil Diamond. Although he is best known for jaw-dropping skills on the mandolin, Sam the Man is also a Grammy Award-winning vocalist.

Sam Bush was hardwired to do the voodoo that he does: his entire family was musical. Sam’s mother’s father was a fiddler. His mom played rhythm guitar. His dad still plays fiddle and mandolin. Sam’s sister Clara was a guitar player and when she and his other sister Janet played folk duets at barn dances and square dances, the young prodigy played strings right alongside. Sam’s dad taught his offspring about harmony and both his parents jammed with their kids. By the time Sam graduated high school, he had already earned three national junior fiddle championships and a reputation for being a hot young mandolin player.

Once he hit the big time, Sam Bush never looked back –  and he never looked at the guy next door. Sam dressed like he dressed, played what he played. For him, it was and is all about the show. Once on stage, the music takes over. Then Sam takes over and there is just no stopping him.

To learn more about  his life from the horses’s mouth and the importance of Telluride Bluegrass, click the “play” button and listen to Sam’s podcast.

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