Saturday, November 06, 2010

Super Sam Bush rocks and socks Maryville crowd


MARYVILLE, Tenn. -- Bluegrass and Bob Marley, electric mandolin and funk fusion?

Yeah, that could only mean Sam Bush.

The so-called Newgrass pioneer has been tearing up tradition ever since Bill Monroe told him to "stick to the fiddle" after hearing Bush's now famous mandolin licks.

Ol' Bill might have rolled over in his grave last night when Bush and his band rocked and socked the Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville with a "you've gotta be kidding me" encore of Marley's "One Love." But, damn, if it didn't work. Let's get together and feel alright!

Bush is something of an acquired taste. A few of the more, er, geriatric members of the audience left during portions of the program. But, man, did they miss it. And, maybe, they missed the point.

For all of his joking about corrupting young bluegrass pickers, Bush is carrying on a tradition started by Charlie Waller and continued later by the Seldom Scene -- tipping your mandolin to Monroe and his G-run before flying off into the ether. You can hear strains of the "Flatt and Scruggs Show" that Bush loved as a kid. And you can also hear reggae and rock and roll and God knows what else. But maybe that's the way it should be. Plus, he can moan that mandolin (and float that fiddle bow) like nobody's bid'ness.

Bush highlighted some tough tunes, including "The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle," the story song he wrote with Guy Clark and Verlon Thompson about the 1973 murder of popular "Hee Haw" and Grand Ole Opry performer David "Stringbean" and Estelle Akeman. Some guy kept yelling for "The Ballad of Spider John," so he finally did that one, too.

But, oh, my God. Those other encores.

Yes, "One Love" worked, a groovin', soothin', smooth swirl of mountain and Marley music.

Those rushing home missed the awesome, orgasmic 15-minute "Up on Cripple Creek" jam, can't believe it, yes, they did, pick some more and do it again. Sam brought back his band -- Todd Parks and Stephen Mougin and Chris Brown and the renowned Scott Vestal and his banjo. Then back came opening act Missy Raines and the New Hip. On it went, stop-time, magic time, blending The Band and Kentucky bluegrass, "up on Cripple Creek she sends me" giving way to Vestal's banjo and Bill Monroe's "Cripple Creek," bringing it full circle, tradition meets today.

I don't care for the rock and roll and part of me still likes to hear high lonesome and a howdy. But, holy cow. To hear Sam Bush is to hear something special, alive and awesome, fresh and fun.

Hate to tell you, Mr. Monroe, but this crazy ass mandolin picker from Bowling Green belongs somewhere right there with ya.

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