MusicMarauders Presents: Sam Bush 11.2.12

Quixote's True Blue
Denver, CO

Words By Brad Yeakel
Photos By Britt Nemeth

I arrived at Quixote's with a renewed sense of intrigue. This would be my last time enjoying the atmosphere, the music, the patio and the vibe that is Quixote's. While excitement is high for the new location (13th & Grant in Denver, CO), the magic of Lawrence St. is something that many doubt will be matched. The current place has some buffer because of its location and the new one will likely limit the outside entertainment factor. No one doubts that the bar will still be a great hangout, but the layout on Lawrence is pretty much perfect. So I went with the intention of enjoying the magic one last time with the music of Sam Bush and the company of friends.

The last Friday in Wonderland began and the funky newgrass had me dancing instantly. Shades of reggae, country and bluegrass shared space as if all were right with the world and at Quixote's all was. "Freight Train" chugged in with banjo and some lyrics about Casey Jones. The band was sharp, but thus far they were playing within themselves. Scott Vestel on banjo slipped in some classical riffs before increasing speed and lands us in some grass 'n roll. They dropped to a bass break, and began a rocking bluegrass wipeout jam. By the time they returned to "Freight Train," they were cooking with gas. "California" followed with Bush on violin. This tune was country and though it has a typical country song sound, I was enthralled with Bush's charisma, lyrics and talent. He has a magnetism and likability that reminded me of Willie Nelson and he definitely falls into the realm of country that I enjoy. Sam took over then with a spacey violin solo that was both psychedelic and soothing. The band's sparse accompaniment was minimal and highlighted Bush's adventurous nature. Eventually "New Country" emerged like a melodic memory; a familiar tune that I hadn't heard in ages. They began throwing solos around like hot potatoes and everyone was getting in on the act. They ultimately dueled like Bush, Vestel and drummer, Chris Brown were the Three Musketeers. "Majestic" followed with a bluesy vibe and bass player Todd Parks jumped onto the standup bass.

As a honkytonk nuance started to take over, I noted that Bush really trusts banjo player, Vestel. While his entire band is skilled, Bush and Vestel seemed to lead the solos, the jams and ultimately the energy. Bush busted out the mandolin and we were blazing through the lands between Georgia blues and Kentucky Bluegrass. Bush's voice is the caliber of a top country star. "Bluegrass Train" came thundering down the track and Vestel drove the song forward like a train trying to keep on schedule. When the breakdown hit, Bush showed us why he has made such an impact on fusing bluegrass
with other contemporary influences. He continued to add creative, unique, innovative variations on the typical bluegrass narrative, yet without disrespecting, belittling, or taking anything away from the traditional bluegrass that marks his primary style.

The next song, "Circles" was a song about thankfulness that helped to remind the crowd of how lucky we have been to experience Quixote's on Lawrence street. Bush continued to shine on mandolin, violin, and vocals. "On the Ocean" was a typical bluegrass tune and then Sam introduced the band. When he introduced bassist Todd Parks, the presidential theme played. Drummer, Chris Brown, guitarist, Steve Mougin and finally Scott Vestel who was now wearing a banjo synthesizer, rounded out the group. Stevie Wonder's "Masterblaster" brought funk into the mix and though Bush's vocals were not as silky as Mr. Wonder's, it was just as enjoyable. The synthesizer banjo dropped in some organ-like tones and I remember why I love Sam Bush so much. Because he tore the walls down around standard bluegrass and ushered in an era that allowed bands like Yonder Mountain String Band, String Cheese Incident, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, the Infamous String Dusters, Greensky Bluegrass and many, many more to thrive while pushing limits and leaping over boundaries. The thought about tearing the walls down brings me back to Quixote's impending move and I hope that the future of Quixote's has a similar success after they tear the old place down.

Bush took the remaining funk of "Masterblaster" and uses it to jump start another lone transition... This guy is definitely a master improvisational player. His shifting rhythms hinted at the previous tune while pulling us towards a bluegrass frenzy. The drums hit and Sam lead us into a psychedelic build (as if his mushrooms were kicking in) before smoking a solo and then diving headlong into "Stingray." The intricacy and fluid movement of this tune are always thrilling and Bush's version were perfect, succinct and featured guitarist, Mougin's serious acoustic guitar skill. I was very impressed with each member of this band as the night went on. Flashes of Jeff Austin and Bela Fleck came to mind as Bush and Vestel traded licks like virtuosos at a picking contest. For "South Carolina," Denver local, Chris Daniels opened with a plug for medical marijuana and then demonstrated his rich and crisp voice with a song that rivaled Bush's own crooning. The band was watching Daniels for the changes, yet never missed a turn. Mougin showed off some blues solo chops and Daniels told Bush to "take it home." The band segued into Allman Bros. song, "One Way Out" which starts with Bush and Daniels trading licks. Daniels sang, "there's a man down there... Might be Sam Bush, I don't know." When Mougin took up the solo, Bush and Daniels turned their guitars horizontal to the ground and kneel down before him in homage to his flat picking fury. Quixote's was a full blown rocker and the bass and drums got in on the fun for a couple minutes before Daniels did his best Gregg Allman singing. Definitely a fun time. The next song was Picasso's Mandolin which is my new favorite song to hear Bush play. It was perfect for him, as the lyrics and music match the idea of a traditional instrument being used in abstract ways. It is Sam's story as told by an imaginative song writer. The song featured a short venture into "Superstitious" before Sam absolutely explodes on a solo that sounds like Bush has Hendrix flowing through his amped up mandolin. The banjo synth brings in horn lines and Picasso returns to conclude. "Put a Spell on You" was a bluegrass onslaught with off-time audience claps, and a fiery spirit.

The gospel vibe that appeared within had Quixote's serving up some church and I'm happy to be in the presence of the Spirit, which happens to be the name of the song. Next they told us they'd like to "sing an instrumental," but many of Sam's jokes seemed to sail over the crowd's head. The next song, "Lapse N 7" raged to life with guitarmony and Bush's licks were inspiring with hidden extras sprinkled in like crack on a hooker. Now the style could have been reggae, bluegrass, funk, or jazz as tension built in intentional discord. Feedback filled the room battling the skunky smoke for the upper hand. Eventually the skunky smoke won out through sheer longevity... The feedback was explosive, with a short life and a big effect, but the smoke was the tortoise and slowly waited and outlasted the hare's feedback. The song headed into jam territory as I pictured Jerry and Duane Allman trading licks, the psychedelic high point of the night without question. Bush fired his amped up mandolin through an unusual progression and I was simply impressed as I was swept away into a progressive landscape reminiscent of Yes. As the encore loomed, I looked around the colorful room trying to soak up all that was this wonderful piece of my Denver experience. "Same Old Blues" brought Chris Daniels back to the stage and had a similar riff to "Bad to the Bone." As "Cripple Creek" started, I realized that it was as good a song as any to have be my last at Quixote's. Levon would be proud and I'm sure he is looking down smiling that good music will live on in the songs of people like Sam Bush.

When the show ended, I bumped into Sam and asked him if he had anything to say about Quixote's move. Sam said he felt privileged to play there, he was happy to get in with Quixote's on the ground floor and truly appreciates what Quixote's has done to foster an appreciation for music like his over the years. After 42 years on the road, you start to really appreciate those who treat you well, for instance, the two night run this weekend was his first multi-night stand in Denver since he played The Oxford. Sam hoped to play at the new venue and wished Jay and company the best before I thanked him for all the great music and took a last stroll through Wonderland. As I left the building, the Grateful Dead's "The Wheel" played as the patio continued to dance into the night, but I wished it was "Loose Lucy" because the thought in my mind was "thank you, for a real good time."

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