Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
Sun., 8/14, 5:30 – 10 p.m.
Tickets: $35 at Gravity Records
Inevitably as we age, there are times when the world jades us into cynicism. Nothing is ever new or unexpected. This is the worst feeling one undergoes when it comes to their job or passion. The key? Not to let it happen. That’s the main goal of the innovative banjoist/songwriter Béla Fleck, who has played roughly for 25 years and continues to put out modern and unique music to the masses.
With the release of “Rocket Science”—the first in 20 years with his band, the original Flecktones—Fleck and company are touring North America to celebrate their reunion and ever-evolving craft. As Wilmington’s Greenfield Lake Amphitheater prepares to host what’s sure to be a night of imaginative, kaleidoscopic sounds, Béla Fleck tells encore what inspires his groundbreaking music.
encore: Since going separate ways with your band, was there always a feeling that the original members would come together again?
Béla Fleck: When the idea would come up for Howard [Levy] to play on a Flecktone track or join us on a tour, we always felt like, ‘No, let’s wait,’ [because] it would take the special-ness out of it if we ever did get back together if he had a presence all along. So, I guess that means it was in the back of our minds.
When LeRoi Moore of the Dave Matthews Band passed away, our sax player, Jeff Coffin, started subbing for him and eventually went with them full time. That left a hole for us. It was not a problem for a while, because we were very busy doing solo projects separately. But it started to feel like the time to reconvene the band, so we needed an elegant solution. Howard was the perfect choice, and he was into doing it.
e: I read you picked up the banjo after seeing Flatt and Scruggs play; can you describe what was so alluring about the music?
BF: I remember feeling like sparks were going off in my brain when I first heard “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme. I am one of the lucky people who had a strong reaction to the instrument I needed to play. When I finally got one, I could not stop playing it, I was so excited. There is something so high-tech yet primitive at the same time.
e: What do you think Earl Scruggs would say about your unique playing?
BF: I am very fortunate to know Earl pretty well, and he is very supportive. He gets a big smile on his face when I do something wacky, so I don’t play it safe when we jam.
e: As the Flecktones represent a wide range of sounds and genres, how much could be attributed to training, travel and cultural influence versus a unique idea that brings them all together?
BF: Everyone has evolved to such a unique place individually. The idea of bringing unusual musicians together seems pretty obvious to me, actually. It is amazing how well it worked in this case. As each person continues to grow, they bring their new self to the band, and [we] inspire each other.
e: When producing an album such as the Christmas record released a few years ago—taking songs that have been done countless times, yet truly making them new again—does something like that start as a pre-meditated idea or during a playful jam?
BF: It started with a couple of Christmas medleys that we threw together for the holiday season early on. When we decided to actually make a holiday record, we started throwing ideas around in airports and sound checks. Some of the really tough pieces took a lot of work—”Twelve Days of Christmas” is one. Our road crew got really sick of hearing us practice these at sound checks in July!
e: In an interview once, you mentioned your goals are to avoid becoming bored and constantly challenging yourself. Have you ever been in these situation?
BF: I have been in bands where the repertoire didn’t change much, and [I] got locked in for years. That is not a healthy place for an improvising musician, so I have always tried to avoid letting that happen to us. In my personal musical life, I have the power to change things at will.
e: How do you challenge yourself in order to abstain from those types of feelings?
BF: I just keep on looking for the next interesting project. Usually, I lock in a year or so before and start working on it while I am still doing the previous project. For instance, now I am practicing for my concerto while touring with the Flecktones.
e: What do you think the key to producing a successful album is, especially with a unique style/genre that may not always be well received by traditionalists?
BF: For us, it’s about satisfying ourselves. If we love it, that’s enough. You can’t please everyone, and once you start trying to, you have lost the game. I hope that if folks don’t like one project, they’ll check out a different one, because they are so different.
e: If you could cover a song or entire album with the Flecktones, what would it be and why?
BF: I’d like to do “Abbey Road”—the whole album, in order, with our own arrangements! I do love them Beatles!