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Sam Bush and Loudon Wainwright III

The 17th annual Four Corners Folk Festival is just four weeks away now, taking place over Labor Day Weekend, Aug. 31 through Sept. 2, on Reservoir Hill right here in Pagosa Springs.

The festival will feature 22 live performances on two stages from some of the finest touring Americana, bluegrass, newgrass and folk musicians in the country. Featured on this year’s lineup are Railroad Earth, Jerry Douglas, The Wood Brothers, Darrell Scott, Sara Watkins, Sarah Siskind, Caravan of Thieves, Elephant Revival, the Milk Carton Kids, Rose’s Pawn Shop, The Well Pennies, Anne and Pete Sibley, You Me and Apollo, Mike + Ruthy and this week’s featured artists, Sam Bush and Loudon Wainwright III.

Loudon Wainwright’s recording career spans a total of 23 albums, including 2009’s Grammy-winning “High Wide and Handsome” (awarded Album of the Year by Entertainment Weekly editor and NPR contributor Ken Tucker) and his latest, Loudon’s CD, “Older Than My Old Man Now,” released in April 2012.

 The child of a LIFE Magazine columnist and a housewife/yoga teacher, Wainwright studied acting at Carnegie-Mellon University but dropped out to partake in the Summer of Love in San Francisco. He wrote his first song in 1968, “Edgar,” about a Watch Hill, Rhode Island, lobsterman and was soon signed to Atlantic Records. Several years later, Clive Davis lured him to Columbia Records, where 1972’s Album III yielded the top 20 hit “Dead Skunk.”

 Wainwright has collaborated with songwriter /producer Joe Henry on the music for Judd Apatow’s hit movie “Knocked Up,” written music for the British theatrical adaptation of the Carl Hiaasen novel “Lucky You” and composed topical songs for NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered and ABC’s Nightline.

 Loudon Wainwright’s songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Earl Scruggs, Rufus Wainwright, and Mose Allison, among others. Loudon’s acting career includes an early recurring role as Capt. Calvin Spalding, the singing surgeon, in TV’s M.A.S.H. and a stint in “Pump Boys and Dinettes” on Broadway, and more recent work in films directed by Hal Ashby, Tim Burton, Cameron Crowe, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Guest, and Judd Apatow. He also appeared as a regular in Apatow’s critically acclaimed TV series “Undeclared.”

 Loudon Wainwright III will play solo on the festival’s main stage on Sunday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m.

 Grammy Award winning multi-instrumentalist Sam Bush doesn’t seem old enough to be a musical legend. And he’s not.

But, he is.

A legend.

 Alternately known as the King of Telluride and the King of Newgrass, Bush has been honored by the Americana Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association.

“It’s overwhelming and humbling,” Bush says of his lifetime achievement award from the AMA. “It goes along with the title cut of my newest album, ‘Circles Around Me’which basically says, ‘How in the hell did we get this far?’ In my brain I’m still 17, but I look in the mirror and I’m 57.”

 Bush has helped to expand the horizons of bluegrass music, fusing it with jazz, rock, blues, funk and other styles. He’s the co-founder of the genre-bending New Grass Revival and an in-demand musician who has played with everyone from Emmylou Harris and Bela Fleck to Charlie Haden, Lyle Lovett and Garth Brooks. And though Bush is best known for jaw-dropping skills on the mandolin, he is also a three-time national junior fiddle champion and Grammy award winning vocalist.

 “In the acoustic world, I’ve been pretty lucky to play with almost every one of my heroes. I’ve gotten to play with Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, I’ve been to the mountain,” says Bush with a smile. But his greatest contribution may be his impact on the future.

 “Chris Thile, Wayne Benson, Shawn Lane, Matt Flinner, Ronnie McCoury, Mike Marshal — they play in ways that I can’t play,” he says of today’s younger generation of mandolin players. “I’m hoping to be around for the next generation that comes along after that group. That’s going to be something. The music keeps evolving.”

 “Circles Around Me,” Bush’s seventh solo album and sixth with Sugar Hill, is an aurally inspiring mix of bluegrass favorites and complementary new songs. Produced by Bush, the 14-song set includes appearances by Del McCoury, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas and New Grass Revival co-founder Courtney Johnson (posthumously). The album also employs the phenomenal talent of Bush’s band: Scott Vestal, Stephen Mougin, Byron House and Chris Brown.

 “It’s crazy to think about,” Bush says of his influence on today’s crop of mandolin players. “I’m proud to be part of a natural progression in music. And I hope to still be playing 30 years from now.”

 That said, it’s not surprising that Bush still has goals. “I want to grow as a songwriter, as a song collaborator,” he says. “There are still a lot of things I haven’t discovered about playing mandolin. I want to be able to be secure in the styles that I know how to play well, but I also want to explore other styles that I haven’t learned yet. I want to improve as a singer,” he adds. “I have to work harder on singing than I do on playing.

 “As long as I’m alive I hope I have the ability to play,” says Bush, a two-time cancer treatment survivor. “When the ability to play is taken away, it’s humbling. It teaches you a lesson: don’t take it for granted.”

 Sam Bush will be making his third headline appearance at the Four Corners Folk Festival, closing the show on Sunday evening with a 7 p.m. set.

 Tickets to this year’s Four Corners Folk Festival may be purchased by phone at ( 877) 472-4672 or online at www.folkwest.com. Complete festival information, including Main Stage, Late Night, Workshop and Kids’ Tent schedules, is also available at that web site. Children 12 and under receive free admission when accompanied by an adult and can enjoy a selection of free activities and entertainment in the Kids’ Tent throughout the weekend.

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