Sam Bush Returns to The Barns at Wolf Trap for a Sold-Out Show
Words By Dan Rozman
Photos by Mark Raker
“Good evening music lovers,” is how Sam Bush recently welcomed the sold-out audience, which included many members who could identify the 45 rpm spindle adapter on his shirt, to The Barns at Wolf Trap. If you weren’t a Bluegrass fan when they took the stage you almost certainly were by the end of the evening. Built from two restored 18th-century barns, The Barns at Wolf Trap is a popular intimate venue with excellent acoustics that hosts top musical acts of all genres.
Bush shared that he first played at Wolf Trap back in 1971 at the National Folk Festival. After playing a few songs on Oct. 22, he thanked the enthusiastic audience for coming out on a school night, and said “We already feel the love.”
During the show, he joked that Bill Monroe is called the father of Bluegrass which must make him the mother. In reality, Bush is known as the Father of Newgrass. In March 2010, Legislation passed in Kentucky that officially named Bowling Green the “Birthplace of Newgrass” and Sam Bush the “Father of Newgrass.” The multi-award-winning Bush was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2020 as a member of New Grass Revival and in 2023 he was inducted a second time for his solo career. Bush, a 13-time nominee, has won 3 Grammy Awards over his acclaimed career. He is also a 4-time International Bluegrass Music Association Mandolin Player of the Year and is “considered an originator of progressive bluegrass music.”
The band consisted of Sam Bush (mandolin and fiddle), Wes Corbett (banjo), Todd Parks (bass), Chris Brown (drums), and Stephen “Mojo” Mougin (guitar). The entire band was having a great time playing and joking. Each member had a chance to shine during spotlight solos You could tell that they enjoyed playing together. The friendship was obvious when he introduced Chris Brown who he has played with for over 22 years, Bush joked, “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. Nothing he wouldn’t do for me. We do absolutely nothing for each other.”
Throughout the entire show, Bush’s ear-to-ear smile was contagious, not only with the band but also with the audience. Many of the songs they performed were from Bush’s most recent album Radio John: Songs of John Hartford as part of an ongoing tribute to the late folk icon. Smithsonian Folkways released the album (yes it is available on vinyl) about a year ago. Bush explained, “The first song we started with tonight was ‘I’m Still Here,’ written by John Hartford in the ’60s. Nine out of the ten tunes on the album were written by John and some I got to record with him in the 70s and play on and sing harmony on. Others I just simply loved always.”
Watch Sam Bush perform “I’m Still Here” by John Hartford for WNRN on YouTube:
After the opener Bush played other Hartford classics like “Tall Buildings” and “On the Road.” Bush also included “Radio John”, a tribute to Hartford, which he co-wrote with John Pennell over the phone during COVID-19 isolation. Bush joked, “John had so many talents we originally had 22 verses, so we cut it down a little for your listening enjoyment.”
In between the Hartford songs, Bush sprinkled in bluegrass staples like Flatt & Scruggs’ “Down the Road,” which he introduced by saying, “Nothing spells love like a song by Flatt and Scruggs.” In addition to playing his mandolins, Bush played the fiddle on three songs. The setlist highlights included “Unconditional Love,” “Crooked Smile,” “Circles,” “Simple Thing” (solo), and “Spider John” (solo). Most people wouldn’t think a dog drinking from a bowl is musical but Ozzie’s lapping rhythm gave Bush the inspiration for the closing song “Laps in Seven.”
It was a jam-packed show, with Bush’s artistry and storytelling allowing the audience to connect with Hartford’s music in a beautiful intimate setting. The moving tribute spanned Hartford’s folk origins to Bush’s bluegrass roots. At the end of the concert, Bush once again showed his appreciation to Wolf Trap and the audience when he said “The band had a toe-tappin’, foot-stompin’ kinda night” at The Barns at Wolf Trap. “Thanks to all who joined in the fun.”
Certain aspects of the research and/or drafting for this piece may have employed AI.
I’m Still Here
Down the Road
On the Road
Out on the Ocean
Simple Thing (solo)
Spider John (solo)
Laps in Seven
Here are some photos of Sam Bush Band performing at Wolf Trap on Oct. 22, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Mark Raker.