Sam Bush wrapped up a brief four-day Northeast/Mid-Atlantic run of shows on Sunday, July 18, at Stages in Cockeysville, MD, with a rousing two-hour set filled with Bush originals and bluegrass standards.
The evening started off on an auspicious note as local singer-songwriter Caleb Stine took to the stage just after 5:30 pm to deliver a brief set of tender originals and a few covers underneath a surrealistically beautiful evening sky swimming with delicate purple & orange hues courtesy of a majestic a mid-summer sunset.
After a very brief intermission, Bush, and his talented ensemble, consisting of Todd Parks (electric bass), Chris Brown (drums), Wes Corbett (banjo) & Steven Mougin (guitar), kicked things off on a high note as the progressive-bluegrass maven led the group through John Hartford’s “On the Road”, which featured all four instrumentalists trading solos without missing a beat. As with many bluegrass groups, “trading fours” is the bread & butter of any live performance, and can sometimes wear thin due to repetition, but Bush and his musical cohorts managed to keep things fresh and interesting throughout the entire performance thanks to their serious chops & melodic camaraderie.
Bush, who repeatedly took time between songs to express his sincere joy regarding being able to play in front of live/non-socially distanced audiences again, kept things typically upbeat for the remaining two hours with a diverse setlist that has become a hallmark of his live performances. Classic bluegrass standards, such as Doc Watson’s “Nashville Blues” and The Country Gentleman’s “You Left Me Alone” are mixed in with some of Bush’s unique & innovative originals, such as “Sapporo”, an Eastern-influenced instrumental number based around a five-note musical scale Bush learned in Japan, and Corbett’s dramatic banjo-specialty “Boss Fight.”
Of course, no Sam Bush show would be complete without at least one or two covers of distinctly non-bluegrass material, and tonight was no exception as the group treated the crown to their beloved re-worked version of “The Letter” by 60’s pop-darlings The Box Tops as well as slotting the Allman Brothers’ anthemic “Midnight Rider” in the middle of a set-closing version of Darrel Scott’s “Banjo Clark” that saw Bush switch between his resonator-banjo and electric mandolin to deliver some searing solos.
While the impressive display of musicianship was clearly the evening’s highlights, the Stages venue itself also played a large role in contributing to this special affair. As a state-of-the-art music school & recording studio by day and live-outdoor venue by night, Stages has single-handedly transformed the otherwise unassuming enclave of Cockeysville, MD into a live-music hotspot featuring a calendar teeming with Bonafide local & national touring acts. The fact that the venue is located mere miles away from the McCormick spice factory and its intoxicating cinnamon-tinged aromas wafting through the air is the proverbial cherry on top.
Though some purists will surely shudder at the sight of a drum-kit on stage, Sam Bush continues to bridge the gap between traditional & progressive bluegrass with laser-like musical precision and genuine youthfulness that seemingly belies his age.
Sam Bush – Stages, Cockeysville, MD – 7/19/21
On The Road, Nashville Blues, Ridin’ That Bluegrass Train, They’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone, Sapporo, Up on the Hill Where They do Boogie, Columbus Stockade Blues, The Letter, Roll on Buddy, Boss Fight, You Left Me Alone, Only You, Circles Around Me, Out On The Ocean, Howlin’ at the Moon, Lee Highway Blues, Banjo Clark->Midnight Rider->Banjo Clark
E: My Little Girl in Tennessee