Newgrass star Sam Bush returns to Bowling Green

Andrew Critchelow

Bluegrass innovator and Bowling Green native Sam Bush will be visiting his hometown this weekend for a series of events that will have local music fans rejoicing.

Bush will take part in a sold-out performance on Saturday at Van Meter Hall as part of WKU’s Cultural Enhancement Series. On Friday, there will be a screening of a documentary film about his life entitled “Revival: The Sam Bush Story” at the SKyPAC in downtown Bowling Green.

Born in Bowling Green in 1952, Bush developed an approach to playing bluegrass music early on that drew influences from genres such as rock, funk and reggae. Often considered the “father of newgrass,” Bush showcased this progressive version of bluegrass in the ‘70s and ‘80s with his band New Grass Revival.

Bush has since won three Grammy Awards and has played with notable musicians such as Doc Watson, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.

Brent Bjorkman, curator of the Cultural Enhancement Series, said the performance on Saturday will bring in a large array of people. 

“I think it’s going to be a very diverse audience,” Bjorkman said. “I think it’s going to bring people to campus who probably don’t come to campus very often.”

Since its beginning in 1997, the Cultural Enhancement Series has brought many prominent artists, musicians, dancers, writers and public speakers to WKU over the years. On the musical spectrum, some of the performers who have taken part in the series include Doc Watson, Wynton Marsalis and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. 

A longtime admirer of Bush’s music, Bjorkman said WKU students can learn much from attending the performance.

“He’s touched so many people and he’s allowed so many genres of music to touch him,” Bjorkman said. “He paved his own road but has so much reverence for the old stuff.”

Paul Priest, bassist for Kentucky band Jericho Woods and an accomplished bluegrass musician in his own right, said Sam Bush is a powerful influence on Priest and his peers. 

“I hear Sam in so many Kentucky musicians, even if they don’t realize it,” Priest said. “Newgrass is an obvious influence on modern Americana bands.”

Zac Bush, the education director at SKyPAC, also believes Sam Bush’s influence on contemporary music is undeniable.

“I think that a lot of people don’t realize the kind of influence he had around the world,” Bush said. “He truly is the father of an entire genre.”

Along with the showing of “Revival: The Sam Bush Story,” the SKyPAC will also be hosting a Q&A with Sam Bush and producers of the film. Zac Bush said this will be a great opportunity for curious local fans. 

“I’m sure [Sam Bush’s] biggest fans live right here in Bowling Green, and the chance for them to talk to him and ask whatever they’d like is really cool,” Bush said.