One of the biggest pop culture surprises of the summer has been the rise of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God),” a nearly four-decade-old song that had a massive chart resurgence when it was featured in season 4 of Stranger Things. In June, the opening track from Bush’s landmark album Hounds of Love reached the top of the U.K. charts 37 years after its initial release, breaking records and introducing a new generation to the sui generis singer-songwriter’s eclectic body of work.
This essay was adapted from the Alta newsletter, delivered every Thursday.
As TikTok teens and Top 40 stations play catch-up to Bush’s brand of soaring, sensual, synth-heavy music, one group of Californians has been primed for the Bush renaissance. Formed in 2017, Baby Bushka may be America’s only Kate Bush experience. (The members prefer “experience” to “tribute band.”) Baby Bushka—the name comes from Bush’s 1980 song “Babooshka”—benefits partly from the fact that Bush has been largely absent from the music scene since her heyday, touring only once, in 1979, and never in the States. (Cloudbusting, another band of Bush cover artists, is based in the U.K.)
The complex arrangements of Bush’s music require an eight-piece band, with three-to-five-part harmonies. Bush’s unique dance moves and expressive singing inspire Baby Bushka’s choreographed dance moves. Bush’s lyrics about Harry Houdini, bank robbery, and mad scientists are acted out, replete with props and costume changes. Hamilton it’s not, but the musical-theater energy and hammy choreography are highly endearing.
The performers and crowd feel enmeshed—everyone, onstage and off, is coming at it from the angle of fandom. Watching this group of women onstage feels utopian, with each performer getting her turn to shine on lead vocals, the crowd chanting along to most of the words. The members—founder Natasha Kozaily, Heather Nation, Melanie Medina, Marie Haddad, Leah Bowden, Batya MacAdam-Somer, Nancy Elizabeth Ross, and Lexi Pulido—all have Bush nicknames (Boss Bush, Sugar Bush, Hella Bush, etc.) like the Ramones, making it even more familial.
“Boss Bush” Kozaily runs a music school in San Diego and performs original music as Natula. With her long brown mane and wide eyes, Kozaily bears some resemblance to Bush, but she hadn’t discovered the reclusive British legend’s music until 2017, when someone pointed out their similarities.
“I stayed up all night watching videos on YouTube of her dancing in the forest, in barns, on stages across ’80s television stations, in an attic with the purple haze and gray dresses,” Kozaily wrote to me via email. “I was entranced.”
She continued: “When the idea for Baby Bushka came to me, so did the women.” She and her future bandmates knew one another, but they’d never collaborated. “I felt like it was time and Kate Bush was the perfect reason.”
The closeness that emanates from the stage is infused with tragedy. Keyboardist and vocalist Nina Leilani Deering was killed in a car accident in 2020. Deering recorded lead vocals on “This Woman’s Work” on the self-released Baby Bushka album. The live show now features that song as a memorial to Deering, with photographs on the edge of the stage and a booklet given out commemorating their friend.
Baby Bushka’s recent trip to the U.K. had been postponed twice by the pandemic, but then the group also had to reconfigure in the wake of Deering’s passing. “This recent tour was filled with a lot of emotions! A lot of memories from our first tour, especially of Nina,” Kozaily explains.
Like millions of others, Kozaily has watched Stranger Things on Netflix (which ended its fourth season in July) and is a fan. “It’s a great show,” she says. “I also love the dialogue around Kate Bush and her ‘magic.’”
Not even the psychic experiments of Stranger Things’ Hawkins National Laboratory could have predicted the perfect timing of creating a cover band five years before the streaming platform lit a Bushfire under America’s youth. “We’ve received many messages from friends and fans about it all, and that’s very encouraging. We hope that this new discovery for Kate will only help us in our journey, particularly touring America, where she has been less widely known,” Kozaily says. “It seems kismet that this all happens just when we’re feeling that wave of change and desire to take the next big step.”
As with all artists sidelined by COVID-19, conceiving of new ways to present music to audiences takes as much creativity as the performance itself. I ask Kozaily if Baby Bushka aspires to become a Jersey Boys–type jukebox musical. “Style-wise maybe not...but Broadway...yes please! We have played on some beautiful stages, and we love that Baby Bushka can exist in this eclectic in-between world of the punk-rock venue and the more upscale theater. However, I think the ‘next level’ means having the space and support to develop the show with bigger stages and audiences that can sustain the livelihood of the band.”
Although many aspects of the band are collaborative, Kozaily shoulders the workload of booking, making merch, running the group Patreon, and other administrative tasks. “Despite the fact that we are all professional musicians, performers, and teachers...none of us make any money from Baby Bushka, and that’s just not sustainable, particularly when you look at the amount of time and investment this project requires,” Kozaily says.
While watching Baby Bushka at the Echo in Los Angeles, I found myself thinking of the HBO Max miniseries Station Eleven (based on the book by Emily St. John Mandel), about a group of traveling artists entertaining a world recovering from a plague. Whereas the theater caravan from Station Elevenuses Shakespeare to process its traumas, Baby Bushka relies on Kate Bush as a modern bard whose big emotions can help us heal after two-plus years of illness, isolation, and assorted challenges. The night at the Echo ended with an encore of Bush’s 1985 song “Cloudbusting” performed as an a cappella chorale. The lyrics closed the night on a hopeful note. “I just know that something good is gonna happen,” Baby Bushka sang. From my angle in the throng, the words felt plausible coming from these women.•