You hear people talk about the healing power of music. About 500 people experienced it Friday night in Round Hill, Va., when the Sam Bush Band stepped onto the newly built stage behind BChord Brewing and launched into a jammy, almost three minute intro to an explosive, emotional “Play By Your Own Rules.”
Bush’s usual Cheshire cat grin was even wider than usual as he delivered his trademark “Good evening music lovers” greeting. “I’m happy to say for the first time since March,” he added.
It was Bush’s first live performance in six months and the first post quarantine show for many of the masked, socially distancing fans scattered across the 20-acre meadow. A lot of emotion and a lot of energy can build up on both sides over the course of six months with no live shows.
A cover of John Hartford’s “I’m Still Here” was almost defiant, and a fitting statement that after all these days apart we are slowly finding ways to safely get back together. Kudos to the B Chord folks for creating that environment and to the fans who showed a lot of respect for the guidelines in place.
Things are different, but really, the feeling is not all that changed. There is no “riding the rail” but people still danced. B Chord has picnic tables spaced all over the hillside or you can bring your own chair. You are reminded repeatedly about social distancing and the need to wear your mask if you leave your group’s “homebase.”
As Sam himself pointed out, the only way these sorts of events can work is if everybody plays by the rules and though it might not be our nature, everybody did and everybody still managed to have one helluva fine time.
A taste of Sam Bush’s soundcheck prior to his Sept.18 show at BChord
Some plastic fencing is stretched around the low wooden stage the BChord folks erected at the base of the hillside behind the brewery. The fencing creates a much wider than usual buffer between the performers and the crowd. The usual flock of photographers at the front of the stage was conspicuously absent.
A photographer friend who requested a photo pass for another show of Bush’s three-day run says they told him he would need to present a negative covid test to get a pass. There was no opening act because Bush and his crew wanted nobody around their gear once it was set up, a covid precaution. The 68-year old Bush is a two-time cancer survivor who had to cancel several tour dates last year after complications following abdominal surgery.
So yeah, things are different. But it was still pretty damned good. To borrow from Bush, turns out, yeah “Everything is possible.” People still could stand and dance. Nobody seemed to mind they could not be closer to the stage. They were just be thrilled to have live music back
That our first non-backyard house show post Covid was seeing Bush was fitting. Bush’s music is always uplifting, full of positive messages and optimistic outlooks, without being preachy or pretentious about it. If you’ve talked to him, or know his story, you know that is just Sam being Sam. He practically oozes positive energy. There is a bounce, or a spirit to his music that somehow just coaxes all the bad juju right out of your soul and replaces it with a joyous optimism. For a few hours, anyhow, all the bad shit vanished. And heaven knows we can use a little of that right now.
This was the night RBG died. We learned of her passing during the show through a harsh your vibe test message from a relative who did not know we were at a show. Honestly, there are a couple songs in the middle of the show that were shrouded in a fog of despair. It was not an all-time low, but you could see the bottom from there.
But the music kept playing. And my sorrow was defenseless to stop it. Yeah, I was sad, but it was a joyous, bouncy version of sad that is hard to describe. Bush’s infectious spirit somehow made everything seem alright. And that, folks, is what people mean when they talk about the healing power of music.
This was, as Bush put it, the energy of all the festivals we missed this year (in 5/4 time). Or maybe that was just the fine brews at B Chord kicking in. The combination, no doubt, along with the joy of seeing friends you had not seen in months made for, to borrow again from Bush, a true revival.
All in all Bush turned in a stellar 18-song set filled with old favorites like “They’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone,” “Roll On Buddy, Roll On,” and “Cooked Smile,” and a “Circles Around Me” that was made for leaning your head back and howling at the waning moon in a star-filled Shenadoah Valley sky.
The band was tight and polished, showing no signs of a layoff. Newish banjo picked Wes Corbett had only played 16 shows with the band before covid shut down his new gig (“He played 16 shows with us then we told him you’ve 6 months off, buddy,” joked Bush.) He sounded like he’d been playing with these guys for much longer.
After a freaky AF 12-minute Mahavishnu Mountain Boys jam, the ban went electric for a full-blown blues review with Bush on his Fender Mandocaster, Stephen Nougin on a Telecaster guitar, and Corbett picking up an electric five-string model that Bush jokingly dubbed the “televangelist” as they ripped through “I Put a Spell On You,” the J.J. Cale classic “I Got the Same Old Blues,” and “Stop the Violence.”
Bush came out by himself for a soulful solo cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” for an encore, then was joined by the whole “foggy memory boys” (as he called them) crew to send the crowd dancing into the night with 16-minute “Same Ol’ River.”
“I thought a lot about this night for six months, getting to play again It feels as good as I was thinking it would,” Bush told the crowd before his first encore. It was a mutual feeling. Probably a fleeting feeling, too, at least for us in the north, where the weather will soon put an end to outdoor shows.