am Bush has done a lot in his musical career and has nothing to prove. His place in newgrass and bluegrass history is secure. Even so, he plays with passion and an eye to what's ahead.
The Sam Bush Band made their annual swing through the northeast, tied with their feature performance at the Grey Fox Festival in upstate New York. The Stone Mountain Arts Center is startling -a straight-ahead music venue on top of a mountain near the Maine-New Hampshire border. The stage is backed by a floor to barn-ceiling window that invites the outside in and frames the performers.
Bush flashes his mandolin and fiddle prowess with a practiced stage presence. His band weaves a rich texture of driving bluegrass sound, with demonstrable rock influences (the Allmans' "Whipping Post" was the pre-encore closer).
The Sam Bush Band is as talented a group of five musicians as you are likely to see. Stephen Mougin, his longtime guitar lead and harmonist, traded licks with Bush as an equal. Todd Parks switching effortlessly between stand-up bass and electric, laid a solid line, occasionally offering a high-energy break. Chris Brown was solid on drums. Foremost, Scott Vestal tore up his banjo breaks, mixing runs, rolls and inspired playing. Vestal, from his position stage left, dominated.
Bush has a long history to draw on, and the two-hour set explored his affinity for traditional bluegrass (Flatt & Scruggs), his collaboration with Leon Russell in the late' 70s and his front-and-center role as "The King Of Telluride," a deserved sobriquet. Oddly, Bush's mandolin suffered a bit in the sound mix, but his turns on fiddle were sharp, crisp and true. As if to underscore the undermixed mandolin, Bush hauled out not one, but two, Fender solid body mandolins toward the end of the show, to great effect.
Bush has little to prove, but on one night in the Maine mountains, he and his band showed that they are playing for the long run.