When a pair of independent filmmakers approached Sam Bush with the idea of a documentary chronicling his life's work, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame inductee was skeptical. After all, his life's work and music was in no way complete, as those catching his Saturday evening performance at the Master Musicians Festival in Somerset will be able to attest.
"So they approached me and said, 'What do you think?' I said, 'Well, I feel like I've got 30 more years to go.' They said, 'Don't worry. We can only do it up until now.' So the bottom line is, yes, they made the documentary."
Titled Revival: The Sam Bush Story, the project was co-directed by Kris Wheeler and Wayne Franklin, and outlines the four-plus decades in which the Bowling Green native helped forge an acoustic music style born out of bluegrass commonly referred to as newgrass.
Bush casually mentions "a lot of my good pals" agreed to be interviewed for the film. But the names of the participants also reflect the reach and inspiration of Bush's music through the years. Among the luminaries featured in Revival are Americana matriarch Emmylou Harris, bluegrass crossover queen Alison Krauss, veteran bluegrass traditionalist Del McCoury and acoustic music maverick David Grisman.
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"It's strange when you yourself are the subject of something you see onscreen," Bush said. "It's an odd sensation, I must say."
So far, Revival has been screened only at the Nashville Film Festival in April, where it won the Audience Choice Award for best documentary, and last month at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, where Bush has been a regular performer through the years.
While plans for any theatrical distribution or DVD release remain uncertain, a few online trailers for Revival reveal something Kentucky audiences have firsthand knowledge of— that the '70s were a wildly creative time for a new bluegrass generation intent on stretching the music's stylistic possibilities.
"Of course, in the '70s, I lived in Kentucky, so it's amazing to me how many of these new acoustic sounds were running through there," Bush said. "It started with the Bluegrass Alliance and the New Grass Revival (the bands that essentially introduced Bush to national notoriety) and J.D. Crowe and the New South. Then for a while, Béla (Fleck, Bush's banjo-savvy bandmate in New Grass Revival and a co-billed artist on Saturday's Master Musicians Festival bill) was in a band called Spectrum that was based in Lexington. A lot of really good pickers came through these groups.
"It was just a great time for musical exploration, and not just within acoustic music. You heard it in all sorts of music that went through the '70s. You heard in jazz-rock and in the blues advances of musicians we were hearing about for the first time, like Roy Buchanan. But the best part of it was I was doing it with my buddies, so we were winning and losing together."
While Revival depicts the past, Bush is at work on "30 more years." A versed mandolinist, fiddler, vocalist and composer, he is near completion of his first album of new music since 2009's Circles Around Me.
"Over the years I've recorded on a lot of other people's records," he said. "Just in these past five years, I've also been writing a lot with friends who are pretty great songwriters. So this is my first attempt, at age 63, to release an album where I co-wrote every song.
"At this point, I've got 11 tracks cut. I've written with people like Guy Clark, Jeff Black, Emmylou (Harris). The whole Sam Bush Band wrote an instrumental. (Banjoist) Scott Vestal and I wrote one. So for lack of a better term for it, this would be like a singer-songwriter record for me. It still features a lot of playing, don't get me wrong. It's just a little more varied because each song is a little different. But the common thread is I'm singing them, so you can hear a pattern through the record.
"So for right now, it's the movie and the record. That's pretty good for this year, don't you think?"