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Mandolinist to kick off Twilight Concert Series

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When mandolinist Sam Bush, fiddler Lonnie Pierce and dobroist Curtis Burch launched the band Newgrass Revival back in 1970, it was received with cheers and jeers.

"Many of the younger bluegrass fans liked the way we played," Bush said during a telephone interview from his home in Nashville, Tenn. "But the older traditionalists hated what we were doing; we were playing contemporary tunes bluegrass-style."

About 10 years ago, Bela Fleck joined in on the banjo and Pat Flynn took over the guitar. And that's when the band began to take off.

Since then, Bush has traveled down a steady road to become one of the most in-demand solo mandolinists in the business.

And the road will lead him, once more, back to Salt Lake City, where he will kick off the Twilight Concert Series at the Gallivan Utah Center on Thursday, July 12. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.; admission is free.

"I remember when we started with NGR," said Bush, who cited Bill Monroe, Bobby Osborne of the Osborne Brothers and the music of the Grand Ol' Opry as some of his major influences. "We were so much different than what was going on. But it was just how we played."

Bush said the band wasn't looking to change the world of bluegrass. Instead, it was just trying to play the best they could. "We could play rock 'n' roll songs in the bluegrass style. That's why we called it 'newgrass.'"

Eventually, Bush decided to venture off solo. And he's made a name for himself, winning a Grammy award and two recent nominations and playing with everyone from Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett to classical violinist Joshua Bell, as well as Fleck and fellow mandolinist David Grisman.

The classical CD "Short Trip Home," which featured Bell, was actually the brainchild of classical and bluegrass bassist Edgar Meyer. "He really likes to stretch the boundaries," Bush said. "But it's something that's refreshing."

For the past 27 seasons, Bush has played the Telluride Folk & Bluegrass Festival, a festival that has been around for 28 seasons.

So it's no wonder Bush has earned the titles Mayor of Telluride and King Sammy, which are used interchangeably.

"I like to sit in with the younger players," Bush said. "It's a new experience every year, but playing with the younger ones, like the jam we did at the end of this year's festival, was very educational. And it's also the fact that they're the ones who stay up until 1 a.m., while the other older guys go to sleep."

The last time Bush played Salt Lake City was Sept. 7, 1999. He and Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas were the main musicians during a show at Kingsbury Hall. And Bush is no stranger to the Twilight Concert Series, which he played in 1998. "That's a nice venue," Bush said of the Gallivan Center stage. "We get a special welcome when we come to Salt Lake City."

Bush's band includes drummer Larry Atamanuik, bassist Byron House and guitarist Jon Randall. "This particular line-up has been playing together for a while. They're a bunch of great musicians and have that never-ending energy."

E-MAIL: scott@desnews.com