Telluride Bluegrass #51: Sam Bush Goes for the Gold – All Hail the King of Telluride on his 50th!

Telluride Bluegrass #51: Sam Bush Goes for the Gold – All Hail the King of Telluride on his 50th!

The 51st annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival takes place June 20 – June 23. The Sam Bush Band closes the show on the Main Stage, Saturday, June 22. (But he will also be everywhere you want him to be.)

Learn more about Planet Bluegrass at

Go here for more about the history of Telluride Bluegrass. (Back to 2009.)

Sam Bush, courtesy Planet Bluegrass.

“The Telluride Bluegrass Festival would not be what it is today without Sam’s influence. He’s a one-of-a-kind performer with an ear any musician would kill for, a humble leader and thoughtful mentor to countless young mandolinists. On top of all that, he’s just a genuinely really wonderful person! We’re beyond lucky to be in his sphere and can’t wait to celebrate the milestone of his 50th consecutive TBF performance this summer. What a huge accomplishment!,” said Grace Barrett of Planet Bluegrass.

“Eyes closed, wire-rim glasses in place, mandolin pressed against his ribs, joy would be Sam Bush on a stage…,” said one critic (and fan).

“I feel fortunate that when it’s time to play, no matter how I feel physically or mentally, once the downbeat starts, my mind goes to a place that’s all music,” said Sam. “The joy of the music comes to me and overtakes me sometimes — I just become part of the music.”

We second those emotions, feeling fortunate whenever the King of Telluride asserts his unfettered power on the Main Stage at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, this year for the 50th year in a row. Sam’s trademark instrumental virtuosity on the mandolin coupled with heartfelt vocals, articulate arrangements and a raconteur’s tongue-in-cheek sensibility always wins the day for him, his bandmates and friends.

The Sam Bush Band is scheduled to be the closer on Saturday night, June 22., but he will likely be everywhere you want him to be celebrating 50 years over the TBF weekend #51.

Image, courtesy Planet Bluegrass.

It could be said Sam Bush grew up (professionally at least) with Planet Bluegrass: the history of the Festival from tie-dyed funky to world-class hip is the history of the performer. What’s more, like the event, The King shows no signs of loosing ground or slowing down. The multi-instrumentalist has evolved into a living legend who pioneered his own musical genre (Newgrass) and won multiple Grammys. Over a career spanning six decades, Sam inspired everyone from Taylor Swift to the Avett Brothers.

One of Sam’s earliest and perhaps his most famous band, the genre-bending New Grass Revival, visited town for the first time in 1974, 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 & Bill, courtesy Planet Bluegrass and Sam Bush.

Once upon a long time ago, Sam stepped right into Bill Monroe’s highly polished shoes. He is 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 the aforementioned New Grass Revival, planted the seeds for bands such as Leftover Salmon, Nickel Creek, and Yonder Mountain to name just a few successors.

Sam 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.

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 never looked back. He dressed like he dressed, played what he played. For him, it was – and is – all about the show. On stage, the music takes over and there is just no stopping this giant talent and prince of a man  – rather king.

For more check out TIO’s podcast with the King of Telluride.

Sam, courtesy Planet Bluegrass and Sam Bush.


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