Award-winning artist, bandleader, songwriter and mandolin monster Sam Bush will host the 22nd annual International Bluegrass Music Awards on Thursday, September 29, at 7:30 p.m. at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium.
“It is my pleasure to return as the host for the 2011 IBMA Awards,” Bush said. “As a bluegrass fan and fellow Kentuckian, it’s especially important to me on the 100th year anniversary of Bill Monroe’s birth. I look forward to spending the evening with the nominees and the winners, as this is their special night.”
Grammy Award winning multi-instrumentalist Sam Bush doesn’t seem old enough to be a musical legend. He’s not…but he is. Alternately known as the “King of Telluride” and the “Father of Newgrass,” Bush has been honored with numerous awards from IBMA and the Americana Music Association. It’s especially fitting that Bush, one of bluegrass music’s premier mandolin players, will host the IBMA Awards the year of the Bill Monroe Centennial. Bill Monroe, known as the Father of Bluegrass Music, would have turned 100 on September 13, 2011. The realm of his influence is vast and his accomplishments are many, but like Sam Bush three decades later, one thing Monroe did was ride the small, uniquely shaped, eight-stringed mandolin like a rocket into a new realm of musical expression the world had never heard before.
Recognitions like the Lifetime Achievement Award from the AMA in 2009 have been “overwhelming and humbling,” Bush says, but honors are not what drive him. “I didn’t get into music to win awards,” he says. “I’m just now starting to get somewhere. I love to play and the older I get the more I love it. And I love new things.”
Among those new things are the growing group of mandolin players that identify Bush as their musical role model in much the same way he idolized Bill Monroe and Jethro Burns. “If I’ve been cited as an influence, then I’m really flattered because I still have my influences that I look up to,” Bush says. “I’m glad that I’m in there somewhere.”
He’s being humble, of course. Bush has helped to expand the horizons of bluegrass music, fusing it with jazz, rock, blues, funk, reggae and other styles. He’s the co-founder of the genre-bending New Grass Revival and an in-demand musician who has played with everyone from Emmylou Harris and Bela Fleck to Charlie Haden, Lyle Lovett and Garth Brooks. And though Bush is best known for jaw-dropping skills on the mandolin, he is also a three-time national junior fiddle champion and Grammy Award-winning vocalist. Last year a song he co-wrote, “The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle,” was one of the five nominees for IBMA Song of the Year.
“In the acoustic world, I’ve been pretty lucky to play with almost every one of my heroes. I’ve gotten to play with Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs…. I’ve been to the mountain,” says Bush with a smile. But his greatest contribution may be his impact on the future. “I’m secure with what I can do and I know what I can’t do,” he says. “You just have to stand there and applaud the great young talent. Chris Thile, Wayne Benson, Shawn Lane, Matt Flinner, Ronnie McCoury, Mike Marshall—they play in ways that I can’t play,” he says of today’s current field of mandolin players. “I’m hoping to be around for the next generation that comes along after that group. That’s going to be something. The music keeps evolving.”
“It’s crazy to think about,” Bush says of his influence. “I’m proud to be part of a natural progression in music. And I hope to still be playing 30 years from now.”
That said, it’s not surprising that Bush still has goals. “I want to grow as a songwriter, as a song collaborator,” he says. “There are still a lot of things I haven’t discovered about playing mandolin. I want to be able to be secure in the styles that I know how to play well, but I also want to explore other styles that I haven’t learned yet. I want to improve as a singer,” he adds. “I have to work harder on singing than I do on playing.”
Circles Around Me, Bush’s current album on the Sugar Hill label, is an aurally inspiring mix of bluegrass favorites and complementary new songs. “It felt right at this moment in my life to go back and revisit some things that I’ve loved all my life, which is bluegrass and, unapologetically, newgrass,” says Bush. “After all these years of experimenting —and there’s experimentation on this record too —I’ve come full circle.” Produced by Bush, the 14-song set includes appearances by Del McCoury, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas and New Grass Revival co-founder Courtney Johnson (posthumously). The album also features the phenomenal talent of Bush’s band: Scott Vestal, Stephen Mougin, Byron House and Chris Brown.
Nominations for the International Bluegrass Music Awards will be announced at a special press conference scheduled for Wednesday, August 17, 5-6 p.m. Central at The Loveless Barn in Nashville, Tennessee—so mark your calendars now!
For more information on World of Bluegrass, including tickets to the International Bluegrass Music Awards, go to www.ibma.org, tickets are on sale now at the website.
The IBMA Awards will be broadcast live on Sirius XM Satellite Radio (Bluegrass Junction, Channel 14) and on WSM-AM 650 (live at www.wsmonline.com), and will also be syndicated to more than 300 U.S. markets and 14 foreign networks thanks to the sponsorship of Martha White, GHS Strings, Sugar Hill Records, Deering Banjos, International Bluegrass Music Museum and Compass Records. Program directors and station managers may sign up to be affiliates online at www.ibma.org.
The International Bluegrass Music Awards are voted on by the professional membership of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), which serves as the trade association for the bluegrass music industry. The IBMA Award Show is the centerpiece of the World of Bluegrass week, including the industry’s Business Conference and Bluegrass Fan Fest, which takes place September 26 – October 2 in Nashville.