Sam Bush – photo © Bryan Bolea
Suffice it to say, there’s never any such thing as a bad Sam Bush show. Bush and his compatriots— banjo player Wes Corbett, Steve Mougin on guitar, Todd Parks on bass, and drummer Chris Brown — consistently demonstrate the fact that they remain among the best bands in and around bluegrass, even with a demanding schedule that takes them across the country throughout the spring, summer, and fall, while also headlining at the most prestigious gatherings and festivals the country has to offer.
Bush and company proved that once again when their appearance at the beautiful Dancing Bear Appalachian Lodge in Townsend, TN was affected by a series of torrential downpours, forcing them from the venue’s spacious lawn amphitheater and into the more intimate confines of the restaurant’s covered dining area. After guests were served a sumptuous buffet, the tables were taken away and chairs were situated in such a manner as to guarantee some semblance of up-close proximity.
Despite the hastily compressed set-up, the band still managed to put on an impressive show, one that drew largely from Bush’s current album and tribute to John Hartford, Radio John. Beginning with the title track, the set list also included John McLaughlin (Hartford’s homage to the father of fusion name-dropped in the title), the suitably whimsical Granny Wontcha Smoke Some Marijuana, the tender ode to the working man illuminated in the beautiful ballad, In Tall Buildings, and Bush’s solo spotlight, A Simple Thing As Love, an appropriate choice given that it reflected the fact that Bush recorded the album as a whole entirely on his own.
That said, the performance proved to be an ensemble effort. The final offering prior to the encore, a medley of Leon Russell songs, stretched into an extended jam that demonstrated both how capable and credible the Sam Bush Band is as an exacting instrumental outfit. Bush himself proved proficient on his usual array of instrumentation — mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar, and mandocello. However he does more than simply pluck at the strings, and his frenzied solos underscored the vigor and versatility of his efforts.
Naturally then, the band’s performance was met by an enthusiastic response from the audience, and throughout the 18 song set, the band was greeted with the crowd’s constant approval. As always, Bush and the band seemed to be enjoying themselves as well, no doubt impressed with the scenic surroundings. His shout-out to the crowd in the opening moments of the concert, “Greetings music lovers,” set the tone, and when various audience members shouted their approval or offered a neighborly greeting, such as, “Welcome to Townsend,” the communal vibes were all too evident.
In a sense, the gig at Dancing Bear could have been considered a warm-up for the busy string of festival appearance that lay ahead. For that, the band seemed grateful. Naturally, the jaw-dropping grin that Bush always has pasted all over his face remained there throughout the evening, and even when here were a couple of fumbles such as a false start here or a need to adjust a sound level there, the pace never seemed to falter. After all, given Bush’s fifty plus years in his reigning role as “Father of Newgrass,” it’s clear that his aim is to please — tweaks and tunings aside.
So too, given the exquisite ambiance of Dancing Bear’s intimate environs, any last minute change in the arrangements was hardly cause for concern. Given the fact that Bush and his band are often viewed from the far-away realms of a festival field, the opportunity to witness them in such close proximity more than made up for any extra adjustments.