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The revival of bluegrass

Sam Bush Band at The Windjammer (Isle of Palms, SC)

Sam Bush Band at The Windjammer (Isle of Palms, SC)

By Paul Robinson

Music styles are constantly in transition. From early jazz to today’s pop rock, our music is constantly morphing and it’s usually in-tune with the social atmosphere of the time: but sometimes, it’s the life of the musicians themselves that sculpts the music of tomorrow. Two locally renown national musicians recently passed through Charleston, both with a story to tell about how their lives changed and how their music changed along with it. The Sam Bush Band performed at The Windjammer, Front Beach, Isle of Palms on August 28 and Acoustic Syndicate performed at The Pour House on James Island for two consecutive nights on September 4 and 5.

“We had a lot of fun playing at the Windjammer. I love to be by the beach and while setting up for the show and throughout the evening I just kept looking out over to the water. It’s inspirational and there was so much energy and excitement from the crowd,” Bush smiles. Young to old, “GQ” to counter-culture hippies, all of the social classes were represented at the show. Sam Bush’s progression and transitions from his days with the New Grass Revival to the Sam Bush Band show just how much he integrates his various musical styles, including Nashville twang and rock n’ roll, into a style known all too well as “jam grass”.

“I really enjoy the young audiences that come out to the shows. It brings on a new level of excitement and pushes the band and myself to step more and more outside of the box,” says Bush. “The world of bluegrass is so free flowing. It’s really healthy and offers so many styles to where you can hear the bluegrass influence while playing a Reggae style song.”

With the upcoming release of his new album Circles Around Me (release date: October 20, 2009), Sam Bush is still one of the hardest working musicians in the music business at the age of fifty-seven. “The new album features the song Circles Around Me and it is open to interpretation. For me it was about the transitions and the journey through this life and how I always came back to myself,” says Bush. “I mean, how did we get this far? How come we didn’t fall off the monkey bars and break our necks? I’m surrounded by so many people who I love and who love me. We can all come together and share this beautiful experience we call life.”

Steve McMurry of Acoustic Syndicate at The Pour House (Charleston, SC)

Steve McMurry of Acoustic Syndicate at The Pour House (Charleston, SC)

Steve McMurry of the Shelby, NC, progressive bluegrass band Acoustic Syndicate, shares common experiences and relates to this topic of transition. “In 2005, at the SmileFest Music Festival, we played our last show, so we thought. We needed a break,” says McMurry, pointing out that Fitz and Bryon McMurry, Steve’s cousins and also members of the band, needed a break more than anyone. “We were at a place in our lives where Fitz and Bryon were having children and with the relentless touring, there was no way we could support the continuation of the constant road travel and being away from our families,” explains McMurry.

When the band walked off the SmileFest stage in 2005, there were no tentative plans to get back together. They were happy to be going home and taking a break. “It was a godsend to be done with all the touring, late nights and stress, but the hardest thing is that we like playing together. It was more bittersweet than anything,” explains McMurry. “The music business is hard to crack. I’m forty-four years old and taking a break was the thing we needed to do at the time. We were not willing to step on anyone’s toes during our fifteen years of touring because we were not raised that way. Throughout those years, Acoustic Syndicate did not make enemies; we made friends.”

“After our last show at SmileFest 2005, I did not take my guitar out of the case for a year,” says McMurry. “I went to work on the family farm in Shelby and worked with the Department of Transportation. During the hiatus, my wife passed away. I needed this time to get through the transition of my loss. I see Fitz and Bryon every day and my family bond is one of the best things I have in my life.”

In 2007, Acoustic Syndicate came back to its fans, friends and family and performed at SmileFest 2007. “We left on the same stage we came back on and picked up right where we left off,” says McMurry. “We are touring part time now and we came back by popular demand. It’s much better now because we all have day jobs and when our agent still calls two years after our band broke up and tells us that clubs, festivals, bars and music halls are still trying to book us, we realized part-time touring may be just the place for us.”

Railroad Earth, an upcoming progressive style bluegrass band will be playing at the The Music Farm on September 27, 2009, in downtown Charleston. This is a great opportunity to see just how far bluegrass and its roots have transformed into one of the largest growing styles of music in the United States. Ticket Sales are $17 and $20 at the doors. Visit for more information.

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