Boulder Weekly Interviews Sam about upcoming RockyGrass Festival

Jul 28, 2011

The tradition lives on.

RockyGrass Festival takes bluegrass back to its roots.


While Telluride has, by design, expanded to include many folk and pop acts, RockyGrass remains almost defiantly traditional. It is, no doubt, the way the old guardian of the genre Monroe would have wanted it. Acts perform acoustic sets, on traditional instruments, with drum kits being kept to a minimum. Some acts, such as the legendary Sam Bush Band, even tailor their set to fit with the traditional vibe.

Bush is credited with taking bluegrass from the farms to the cities in the ’70s, incorporating rock ’n’ roll into the genre with his band New Grass Revival. At RockyGrass, however, the Sam Bush Band becomes the Sam Bush Bluegrass Band, tackling traditional favorites.

“It’s great because we feel free to play some traditional songs we really love to play. We were just practicing for three hours, pulling out stuff by the Stanley Brothers, Foggy Mountain Boys, even the Dillards,” Bush says. “Other promoters have asked us to do our bluegrass set at other festivals, but we really only do it for RockyGrass. I mean, we’ll play some newgrass stuff, some of the stuff you expect us to play, but we really try to make it a special, true bluegrass set.”

It’s noteworthy that Bush reserves his most traditional set for the festival that Bill Monroe created. Bush always revered Monroe growing up, but the feeling was not necessarily mutual. Upon hearing Bush play with New Grass Revival, legend has it that Monroe told Bush that his music “ain’t no part of nothing.” Monroe eventually came to respect Bush and his music, and the Sam Bush Bluegrass Band is a fitting tribute to the values that Monroe held so dear.

“You know, I think Bill Monroe respected us for taking chances and trying to find our own sound,” Bush recalls. “He always felt that if you didn’t take a chance in music, you’re nothing. I mean, nothing bad is going to happen if you make a mistake playing music.”

Listening to Sam Bush talk about Bill Monroe is a great reminder of the living history lesson that occurs at each of these festivals. Rock ’n’ roll is a young man’s game, with artists relying on visceral gut-punch passion and constant innovation to remain relevant. But bluegrass players, with their respect for tradition and emphasis on great musicianship, tend to age quite well. Maybe it’s because that high and lonesome  sound is a little bit more lonesome when sung by a man looking back at a lifetime of experience, but anyone watching a 72-year-old Del McCoury take the stage will leave with the feeling that he’s still as good as he ever was.

by Cory O'Brien at Boulder Weekly
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