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Pickin’ and Grinnin’ ...
Sedona’s Summer Bluegrass Shakedown

by Sarah Bowes

Bluegrass is booming. And it’s not just because of the O’ Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack that’s still selling like mad. There’s a whole legion of young urban musicians out there passing over electric guitars for banjos and mandolins and giving the once-folksy genre a hip kick in the bass.

Sedona’s Summer Bluegrass Shakedown at the Sedona Cultural Park, August 21, features Yonder Mountain String Band, the brightest rising stars of this “newgrass” wave, and a slightly more established pied piper (pied mandolinist, really) who the people call “King Sammy.”

When Yonder Mountain String Band takes the Georgia Frontiere Pavilion stage, you’ll realize this ain’t your daddy’s bluegrass - that is, if you stop grooving long enough to think.  The four young musicians from Nederland, Colorado, have been tearing it up from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival to Manhattan music clubs with a sound they call “Jamgrass.”

The traditional acoustic instruments are there, banjo, guitar, mandolin, and upright bass - but they play with a high energy, modern edge the band describes as “drive without drums.” Or, as mandolinist Jeff Austin put it, “It’s bluegrass, but it’s not afraid to jam.”

Yonder Mountain has been known to riff anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes on a single jam, whipping crowds into a dancing frenzy. Then they turn around and do a traditional bluegrass tune around a single microphone; the intricate, organic way the voices and instruments merge through that one channel coaxes an awed hush from the audience.

Most of their music is original, but they’ve covered artists from The Beatles to Black Sabbath. Wherever they go, they’ve been playing to increasing, enthusiastic, and diverse crowds, drawing traditional bluegrass lovers as well as rock fans.

Who knew a guy could achieve rock-star status playing the mandolin? That’s essentially what Sam Bush has managed to do.

Featured in 26 of the 27 Telluride Bluegrass Festivals, he’s known as “The Mayor of Telluride,” or “King Sammy” to bluegrass fans. He recently picked up a Grammy for his work on a track of the O’ Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack.

Bush began honing his virtuosity in his teens, and at age 19 in 1971, he founded the band New Grass Revival, a major force in popularizing and revolutionizing traditional bluegrass music by fusing it with a variety of other musical styles. New Grass Revival blazed that trail for 18 years, with 10 record releases to its credit before disbanding in 1989.   (Bela Fleck, who will play the Park in September for EcoFest III, also was a member of New Grass Revival.)

An in-demand session player, Bush, who plays mandolin, fiddle, and guitar, has recorded on albums by Emmylou Harris, Leon Russell, Doc Watson, Steve Earle, Garth Brooks, Steve Wariner, Trisha Yearwood, Left Over Salmon, and Pam Tillis, among many others.

For tickets to the Sam Bush and Yonder Mountain String Band concert, call (928) 203-4TIX, 1-800-594-TIXX or go on-line sedonaculturalpark.org.

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