Mandolin virtuoso Sam Bush, one of the founding members of the progressive band New Grass Revival, recently suffered serious medical problems that left him with huge bills. And, like most musicians, Bush carried minimal medical insurance. It's a measure of his impact that benefits are being held for him all over the country, including tonight and tomorrow at the Birchmere, where the Seldom Scene, Country Gentlemen, Doc Watson and a half dozen others will play for one of their own.
"I think Sam Bush is the best mandolin player there is in the business right now," says John Hartford, who just played two Nashville benefits that attracted most of that city's super pickers. "In addition, he bridges jazz and traditional music in what could best be described as newgrass, or progressive bluegrass. Sam really has the roots and the chops and the background to bridge that gap and I think all bluegrass and newgrass musicians know that. He's very deeply loved and respected throughout the entire fretted string-instrument community."
Other all-star benefits will be held in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Gary Oelze, owner of Alexandria's Birchmere, the leading bluegrass club in America, says, "Over the years Sam has been offered every kind of job in the world, from Emmylou Harris to Linda Ronstadt, but he wanted to play bluegrass, wanted it so bad that's what he's done for 10 years. He's respected for his dedication and musicianship: Doc Watson said last week that Sam's the best old-time fiddle player he's ever heard. I remember when New Grass Revival first started, they'd go to festivals and people would spit on them. But Sam just stayed with it; everybody knows Sam works for a living and they know he's hurting." New Grass is booked into the Birchmere for the last weekend in January, Oelze says. "And they're going to make the gig."