Photos: Sam Bush and Del McCoury at the Boulder Theater - Reverb

Sam Bush and Del McCoury at the Boulder Theater, 03-24-13 (photos, review)

By Jonathan Gang

A sold out crowd at the Boulder Theater on Sunday witnessed an intimate showcase of a combined 90 years of bluegrass experience. Guitarist Del McCoury and mandolin player Sam Bush presented a stripped-down collection of songs and stories that resembled a laid-back porch jam session.

The mandolin and guitar bluegrass duo is a tradition nearly as old as the genre itself, with precursors such as the Monroe Brothers, Jim and Jesse, Doc Watson and Bill Monroe, and Tony Rice and Ricky Skaggs. The format allows for an emphasis on the rich harmonies and subtle instrumental interplay that can be lost in the din of a larger group. The duo of Bush and McCoury are a newer addition to that list, but they are both legends in their own right. McCoury is, at 74, the reigning king of traditional high-lonesome bluegrass. He got his start in 1963 with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and continues to tour widely with the Del McCoury Band, featuring his sons Ronnie and Robbie. On Sunday night he was in fine voice, nailing the high harmonies behind Bush’s robust baritone and holding his own with his soaring leads. He truly looked the part, a consummate country gentleman with his blazer and astoundingly perfect silver pompadour.

Bush, who emerged in the ’70s with Newgrass Revival — bringing elements of pop, jazz, and rock into the bluegrass canon — has settled into a role as one of the genre’s most consistent and entertaining performers. For this show he was obviously the ringleader, doing most of the talking between songs and covering just about all of the lead instrumental duties with his trademark surgical precision. Still, he was obviously just as reverent toward his partner, whom he first saw in concert in 1966 at the age of 14.

The duo played a set steeped in tradition, drawing on both of their back catalogues, as well as classics like “New River Train,” “High on the Mountain Top,” “Nine Pound Hammer,” “The Old Crossroads” and the haunting Bill Monroe instrumental “My Last Days on Earth.”

The songs were not always as tight as might be expected from a combo like this, featuring a few flubbed starts, missed cues and awkward transitions. However, this had an endearing effect, especially when combined with the genial stories Bush and Del brought up from their decades of mutual collaboration. Coming from two of Bluegrass’ most consummate professionals, it felt like being invited into one of their private jam sessions, a chance to be a fly on the wall for a musical conversation between two all-time greats.

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Jonathan Gang is a new contributor to Reverb.

Joshua Elioseff is a Boulder based photographer of everything, a self-professed music junkie and regular contributor to Reverb. Check his photos out on Facebook or his website.

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