Sunday, November 2, 2008

Smokin' New Grass

It wasn't until this year that I discovered the immensely talented four-piece band of bluegrass virtuosos, who played the part of rock stars, called New Grass Revival. Formed in 1971, following a number of lineup changes over the better part of a decade, they settled on a core group of musicians including founder Sam Bush (mandolin), John Cowan (bass), Bela Fleck (banjo), and Pat Flynn (guitar). That lineup would continue on until the band's breakup in 1989. Fleck and Flynn joined Bush and Cowan in 1981 after the previous incarnation of the group was on tour as Leon Russell's backup band and opening act for the prior two years. Their last official concert as New Grass Revival was played on 12/31/89 opening for the Grateful Dead at Oakland Coliseum.

Back in 1981, a Leon Russell/New Grass Revival live album was released featuring the lineup of: Leon Russell (vocals, guitar, keyboards); Curtis Burch (guitar, dobro, background vocals); Courtney Johnson (banjo, background vocals); Sam Bush (mandolin, fiddle, background vocals); John Cowan (bass instrument, background vocals). This concert was also released on DVD in 2002 and features additional tracks not featured on the album including a take on the Bill Monroe classic Uncle Pen.

New Grass Revival were known as much for existing outside the traditional bluegrass scene as they were for being incredible musicians. Their dress and appearance was nothing like their peers and they referred to themselves as 'newgrass'. Their songs were more akin to rock n' roll, soul, and reggae music than they were to traditional country. They were most certainly pioneers of what would become the jam band scene in the early 90s.

The band has reunited on two occasions since their breakup in 1989:

In 1997, when Garth Brooks was invited to perform on The Late Show with Conan O'Brien to perform "Do What You Gotta Do", a song written by Pat Flynn, he asked Flynn, Bush, Cowan, and Fleck to join him in performing it.

In April 2007, Bush, Fleck, Cowan, and Flynn stepped forward together into the spotlight during the Merlefest 20th Anniversary Jam and played the Townes Van Zandt song "White Freight Liner." The single song reunion was the first time the four of them had played together in a decade.

Source: Wikipedia

I have been a casual fan of Sam, Bela, and John via their more recent projects and I have been thrilled with discovering their collective work in New Grass Revival. I was introduced to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones upon their release of the double-live CD Live Art and I saw them open for Dave Matthews Band at the now demolished US Air Arena in Landover, MD around 1996. I first saw Sam Bush in concert at the Tsunami Relief Benefit at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC featuring moe., Trey Anastasio, and John Medeski on 2/10/2005 where Sam joined moe. on the excellent "Same 'Ol River", a song I'd had on my ipod for a couple years at the time. Just last week, I purchased New Grass Revival's Greatest Hits from iTunes and its been in rotation in my car on a daily basis.

Check out the following videos of New Grass Revival:


Can't Stop Now:

In The Middle Of The Night

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