This post is a contribution from Tom Bibey, one of our 2010 IBMA correspondents. You can see his profile here.
Sam Bush is “creating new circles,” but in his 2010 IBMA keynote speech it is clear he has all respect for all those who came before. Sam is a multi-award winning musician and legendary performer, yet didn’t dwell on his own accomplishments. Still, there’s no doubt about what he’s done. His speech could only have been delivered by someone who was there.
Butch Baldassari once said Sam had an uncanny ability for recall of a tune. Even with complex arrangements he was able to play them to perfection years after the last time he’d run through the number. As our IBMA keynote speaker for 2010, Sam showed us he could do the same with stories.
He led us through the early days as a teenager at the Roanoke/Fincastle Carlton Haney festival. Sam no more than got out of his car before he was enveloped in a jam session. A fellow tapped handed on the shoulder and handed him a 1923 F5 Gibson Loar. “You might as well play a good one,” he said. It was the first time Sam met David Grisman. The enthusiasm still shows in Sam’s voice; the thrill of the jam still goes on.
Sam’s respect for Bill Monroe was evident. He spun multiple stories about Bill Monroe’s complex character; full of idiosyncrasies and stubbornness, yet Monroe was among the first well wishers to call after Sam’s surgery years ago. Sam said Monroe once heard him play the mandolin and said, “You better stick to the fiddle; we need some young bluegrass fiddler players.” Unsure of Monroe’s intent, Sam took is as a challenge from a fellow competitive Kentuckian. He practiced harder than ever.
Most listeners credit Sam with the invention of “Newgrass,” but he cited The Country Gentleman and John Hartford as artists who kicked it off. Still, Sam surely deserves much credit for the consolidation of “Newgrass” as a separate genre.
He pointed out how the older musicians supported him when he started out, and how we need to do the same with the new young talent coming along today. He commented that the opportunity in his late thirties to do a duet with Monroe on Southern Flavor made him feel ten years old again. That’s what he’s still doing for us. In the hard times his energy and musicianship gets us through, and at least for a moment makes us feel young again also.
So, thanks for the stories, Sam. As sure as Monroe was the original inspiration for the genre, you have been a major force of the second generation, and we love you for it.