Josh Sweigert

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July 24, 2013
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Big name bluegrass follows Phish

Epic jams will continue long after the last Phish tune fades into the evening air Tuesday and Wednesday nights as several after parties are set to kick off around the South Shore following the jam kings’ outdoor performances. Bluegrass fans face a difficult decision Tuesday, with the Sam Bush Band and Greensky Bluegrass both playing late-night shows at Stateline venues.

Greensky Bluegrass makes South Shore debut

“Holy crap, there’s a hummingbird in my front yard. That doesn’t happen every day here,” Greensky Bluegrass banjo player Mike Bont exclaimed during a recent Lake Tahoe Action interview.

A hummingbird might be a rare sight in Michigan, but Greensky Bluegrass is becoming downright familiar to Tahoe bluegrass fans, having played several shows around the lake in recent years. Greensky will perform at MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa’s Blu Nightclub Tuesday night.

The group is Bont, Dave Bruzza (guitar), Anders Beck (Dobro guitar), Mike Devol (bass) and Paul Hoffman (mandolin). Formed in 2000 in Kalamazoo, Mich., the band came together out of a group of friends playing around a local music scene.

“Three of us were playing open mics about 10 or 11 years ago. It just became a fun thing,” Bruzza told the Action in 2011. “We started playing at local shows and then about five years ago things just sort of took off.”

Greensky first broke onto the national bluegrass scene after winning the 2006 Telluride Band Competition, along with the coveted prize of a booking at the next year’s bluegrass festival.

“That was definitely a starting point for what we’re doing now,” Bruzza said.

After the breakthrough success at Telluride, Greensky Bluegrass grew on the bluegrass and jamgrass circuit, returning to Telluride, High Sierra Music Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and the Northwestern String Summit. And they’ve been back on the road lately, with bookings at Red Rocks, Forecastle Fest, Telluride and numerous other events this summer.

“Right now we’re just doing the summer festival thing,” Bont said. “We’ve just been doing festival stuff this summer and finishing up work on our new album.”

The band is putting the finishing touches on the follow-up to 2011’s “Handguns,” mastering and ordering the tracks and looking at possible album artwork.

“We’re kind of just working on figuring out the end stuff. The CD itself, the material is all recorded,” he said.

Untitled as of yet, the album’s release is expected sometime before the end of the year.

“It will be sometime this fall, which will coincide with our huge fall tour,” Bont said.

Greensky fans don’t need to wait for the release of the album to hear its songs, however, as the band has been experimenting with the tracks onstage.

“We have tried to play a couple of the newer songs from the album, which we were trying to not play until we released the album,” Bont said. “You just want to play them after awhile. You can only go so long until you go ‘OK, let’s just play them.’”

Among the songs that both band and audiences have been enjoying is one with the working title “Windshield.”

“We’ve got a lot of interesting responses from that one. We try to always come up with something new and different. That’s one of those songs,” the banjo player said. “I consider it almost like indie rock in a way. It’s kind of like our response to the whole Mumford & Sons, Avett Brothers thing.”

While Greensky Bluegrass has appeared at least once a year at Crystal Bay Casino since 2009, Tuesday marks the band’s first trip to the South Shore.

“We’ve never been down to the South Lake, it’s usually North Lake. Everyone’s pretty excited for it,” Bont said. “I think we all like going to hang out at Lake Tahoe. That’s pretty much the band’s position as far as beautiful places in the country to go hang out.”

Sam Bush Band headed to Horizon hoedown

While Greensky Bluegrass busts up Blu Nightclub, one of the band’s personal heroes will play across the street at Horizon Resort Casino.

“He’s one of those guys that’s been super fun to get to know,” Bont said. “It’s like ‘Wow, I’m actually friends with Sam Bush. When did this happen?’”

Bush has been a driving force in the bluegrass world for decades. Formed in 1971, his band New Grass Revival helped rewrite the book on old-time music, fusing it with rock, reggae and other elements, breathing new life into a decidedly rooted genre. Bush was one of the founders of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, one of the country’s most esteemed bluegrass events.

The bluegrass icon has been spending some time in the studio lately on a project markedly different from his usual recording experience.

“I’ve been in the studio recording, working on, actually not a record for me, but playing on the ABC TV show called Nashville,” he said. “Most of the tunes are recorded here in Nashville. Sometimes I’m part of playing on soundtrack stuff, playing on songs and adding little instrumental bits here and there.”

He may be the “King of Newgrass” elsewhere, but in these sessions Bush is essentially a studio musician.

“I’m just one of the guys,” he said with a laugh. “The bottom line is you’re making these songs for the actor to be on camera, so you don’t play over too much. You don’t try to stand out. You want to blend in.”

Bush has also been collaborating with fellow bluegrass great Del McCoury, playing a number of shows in recent months.

“In the last year Del and I have been playing some gigs. We played in November and December and then a little bit this year,” Bush said. “We’ve been recording those shows, so that’s a possibility for release but kind of early to know if we’ve got everything we want yet.”

High-profile collaborations and television contributions aside, Bush is most at home playing with his own Sam Bush Band: Scott Vestal (banjo, vocals), Stephen Mougin (guitar, vocals), Chris Brown (drums) and Todd Parks (bass).

“The most fun part is getting to play with the musicians I play with in the band, in the Sam Bush Band, so we’re fixing to have some fun here,” the mandolin player said.

Bush noted the numerous music degrees, onstage experience and picking prowess among his supporting cast.

“That’s the way all these guys are, they’re great musicians that happen to play the instruments they play,” he said.

Despite the traditional instrumentation, the Sam Bush Band is anything but traditional. It specializes in “newgrass,” the genre pioneered by Bush and others in the ‘70s.

“That’s pretty much the definition of newgrass, use traditional bluegrass instruments to make contemporary music,” Bush said. “If we were playing in front of a strict bluegrass audience they’d probably consider us a rock band; if we’re playing for a rock ‘n’ roll audience, they’re probably looking at us as a bluegrass group.”

Accustomed to headlining festivals, Bush is definitely looking forward to Tuesday’s after party, as well as the festive atmosphere he expects to accompany it.

“I figure it’s going to A, be late; and B, I think we’re going to have a party in the audience,” he said.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jul 24, 2013 11:35PM Published Jul 24, 2013 02:47PM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.