Read about the new documentary on bluegrass icon Sam Bush
Sam Bush has done just about everything there is to do musically.
He has been a prize-winning teenager, key figure in the ‘new grass’ revolution, member of Bluegrass Alliance, New Grass Revival, Emmylou Harris’s Nash Ramblers, revered solo artist (seven albums and a live DVD), collaborator and multiple award winner (including an Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist and four IBMA Awards for Mandolinist Of The Year). He has enhanced the work of so many artists and influenced key acts such as Punch Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers and Greensky Bluegrass.
Bush’s performances are annual highlights of the festival circuit, with his joyous perennial appearances at the town’s famed bluegrass festival in Colorado earning him the title, “King of Telluride.” Listening Through The Lens has witnessed first hand his vibrant stage presence many, many times, the last being his full band show at The Festy Experience in 2017.
And now, for fans everywhere, the documentary telling Bush’s full story, Revival: The Sam Bush Story (released digitally on November 1 via Amazon for rent or purchase). Written, produced, and directed by Wayne Franklin & Kris Wheeler, Revival chronicles the life and career of the new grass-creator, but weaves a story about the risks and rewards of being a musical iconoclast.
Since its debut at the Nashville Film Festival in 2015, winning the audience award for Best Music Documentary, the film has played to packed houses and standing ovations at independent film festivals across the USA, picking up three more best documentary awards along the way.
The film includes appearances by Emmylou Harris, John Oates, Alison Krauss, Bela Fleck, Chris Thile, David Grisman, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Jeff Hanna, Del McCoury, John Cowan, Jeff Austin, Scott Avett, The Avett Brothers, Woody Platt, Mike Guggino, Steep Canyon Rangers, Paul Hoffman, Greensky Bluegrass, Pat Flynn and Sierra Hull.
The film opens with a poignant interview with Chris Thile (Punch Brothers) commenting on the pressure placed on Bush by bluegrass traditionalists at the beginning of his career who looked at him to be the next Bill Monroe, to which Bush had the courage to say no.
In the film, noted musicians say many of today’s biggest acts in bluegrass, new grass, Americana and the jam-band scene owe a debt of gratitude to Bush. Performance footage, intimate interviews with industry greats, and candid conversations from Bush (and his wife/business partner Lynn), provide an inside-look at one of the nation’s greatest musical treasures – the hurdles he faced, the boundaries he broke and his triumphs across genres.
The film remembers Bush on a Bowling Green, Kentucky cattle farm in the post-war 1950’s – an only son, and with four sisters. His love of music came from his father Charlie who envisioned his son someday a staff fiddler at the Grand Ole Opry. In the spring of 1970 he heard the New Deal String Band, taking notice of their rock-inspired brand of progressive bluegrass. It turned out to be a game changer for Bush.
Viewers will see the photo of a fresh-faced Bush in his shiny blue high school graduation gown, circa 1970. The next day he was gone, bound for Los Angeles. He got as far as his nerve would take him – Las Vegas – then doubled back to Bowling Green. “I started working at the Holiday Inn as a busboy,” Bush recalls. “Ebo Walker and Lonnie Peerce came in one night asking if I wanted to come to Louisville and play five nights a week with the Bluegrass Alliance. That was a big, ol’ ‘Hell yes, let’s go.’”
Bush played guitar in the group, then began playing mandolin after recruiting guitarist supremo Tony Rice to the fold – a key change in Bush’s career. In 1971, Bush and most of his Alliance mates formed the ground-breaking New Grass Revival.
Shunned by some traditionalists, New Grass Revival played bluegrass festival sets slotted late in the night for the “long-hairs and hippies.” The band garnered the attention of Leon Russell who hired them as his supporting act on a massive tour that put the band nightly in front of tens of thousands. The group issued five albums in their first seven years.
A three-record contract with Capitol Records and a conscious turn to the country market took the Revival to new commercial heights. In this period, Bush survived a life-threatening bout with cancer, celebrated chart-climbing singles, earned Grammy nominations and, at their zenith, called it quits.
Bush worked the next five years with the Nash Ramblers, then a stint with Lyle Lovett. In 1995 he reunited with banjoist Bela Fleck and toured with the Flecktones, reigniting his penchant for improvisation. Then, finally, Sam Bush went solo, with his own band.
“With this band I have now I am free to try anything. Looking back at the last 50 years of playing newgrass, with the elements of jazz improvisation and rock-&-roll, jamming, playing with New Grass Revival, Leon, and Emmylou; it’s a culmination of all of that,” says Bush. The film is a culmination of “all of that.”
Co-director Kris Wheeler explains that he was motivated to share Sam’s story with audiences outside of Bluegrass fans. “Even though Sam is revered by so many music greats he remains something of an unknown legend for the uninitiated,” he said. “So, for those who aren’t aware of Sam’s story, this will be a discovery film. And, honestly, that — as much as anything — is what drew me to this project.”
Revival: The Sam Bush Story can be rented or purchased digitally via Amazon starting November 1, with more networks to add the film in the coming year. News of DVD release and tour information to follow. Here’s a peak:
Read about the new documentary on bluegrass icon Sam Bush