Béla Fleck’s Colorado tour brings sonic diversity

Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck will kick off his summer tour by playing with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. (Courtesy photo)
Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck will kick off his summer tour by playing with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. (Courtesy photo)

By John Lehndorff

For Second Story Garage

Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck might as well declare the state of Colorado his summer musical home. Since he first visited the state as a member of the seminal rock-tinged bluegrass quartet New Grass Revival, Fleck has returned for annually for multiple visits. But unlike many musicians who love the state, the New York-raised, current Nashville, Tennessee, resident has always chosen new configurations as a performer.

He has played solo, as the leader of the jazz-rock Flecktones (two lineups), accompanied by a pantheon of worldly musicians who include Chris Thile, Bruce Hornsby, Marcus Roberts, Zakir Hussain and Toumani Diabate. That doesn’t count sitting in with Mumford & Sons.

For the summer of 2014, the 14-time Grammy Award winner is mixing up his genres again. He’ll perform shows as guest soloist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Fleck has other appearances playing with the new generation string quartet Brooklyn Rider. In Telluride, he’s part of the bluegrass-oriented, all-star House Band and he has several shows with his wife, Abigail Washburn.

Because Fleck and Washburn are relatively new parents — they have a little boy named Juno — our chat with him was via email.

Your performance with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra is the first orchestral event ever in the 40-year history of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Which compositions will you and the CSO play? How will an orchestra fit on that stage?

We’re going to have to cut the orchestra down to more of a chamber orchestra size, just to fit that stage. We have created a chamber arrangement of my banjo concerto, and some other things too. And I kind of wish the repertoire could be a surprise. We will certainly play “The Impostor Concerto” and a couple of arrangements of some well-known Béla tunes, and some awesome classical pieces which were chosen for Telluride’s audience in particular.

How does working with Brooklyn Rider’s musicians compare with playing with The Flecktones or the House Band?

It’s like comparing ice cream and tuna fish. They are all music, but vastly different offerings! Here’s one thing — there is very little improv in the Brooklyn Rider set, and tons of it with Flecktones and House Band. A string quartet is a classic sound, just as a bluegrass band is, but yes, so different.

When you and Abigail perform as a duo, who is the bandleader? How does she challenge you musically?

We are a team, and we try to support each other and encourage each other to do what they do best in the context of our duo. I love being the accompanist to her songs, and looking for ways to make them fresh each time, keep them grooving and see what happens. Obviously she is the singer, and I’m the predominant soloist. That balances things out rather well.

Has young Juno shown any musical genre inclinations yet?

Well, he loves music, that’s for sure. When the music starts, he starts grooving to it. And when he’s put near an instrument, he is very sensitive with it, plucking the strings and listening to what they do.

Do you have any favorite recollections of Colorado beyond Telluride?

Hey, Colorado is one of my favorite places to play since my first days with New Grass Revival. It always felt like a vacation coming there, even when we were working every day. I’m looking forward to the coming times!

Béla Fleck’s 2014 Colorado tour

June 19: With the Colorado Symphony, in Montrose. Tickets: tickets.coloradosymphony.org/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=3404

June 20-22: With the Colorado Symphony, with Brooklyn Rider and as a member of the House Band with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton, Alison Krauss and Del McCoury, at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Sold out, but KOTO-FM in Telluride is streaming most of the festival live.

July 5: With Brooklyn Rider, at Chautauqua Auditorium, Boulder. Tickets: chautauqua.com

July 24: With Abigail Washburn, at eTown, Boulder. Tickets: etown.org

July 25: With Abigail Washburn, at Rockygrass Festival, Lyons. Sold out.

July 27: With Abigail Washburn, at Breckenridge Music Festival. Tickets: breckenridgemusicfestival.com

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