Updated: Dec 12, 2022
2019 Shaping Up To Be Bela-Lissimo for Fleck
Banjo guru Bela Fleck continues to push the creative envelope with a myriad of collaborative musical projects. This year sees him hitting the road with longtime band The Flecktones for a 30th anniversary trek. Montana Press caught up with Fleck to discuss finding a balance, his early years and his love of the Beverly Hillbillies theme.
Montana Press: Is it difficult balancing so many different musical projects (Flecktones, performing with your wife (Abigail Washburn), symphony work, etc.?
Bela Fleck: It’s a little harder now as I get older but largely because I have two kids, a nearly six-year-old and a 10-month-old. The band width is kind of full at this point but once I get into it I feel like things pop into place pretty quick. It is a joy, nowadays I’m often revisiting old projects with longtime friends.
MP: You grew up in New York City. What was the music scene like there growing up?
BF: It was amazing. New York in the 1970s was honking. I could walk two blocks to the Beacon Theatre and hear Chick Corea and Return to Forever or Mahavishnu Orchestra, or Pete Seeger. Go downtown and see Joe Pass play jazz guitar, go to folk and bluegrass jams. Lots of great things were constantly happening. MP: How have you evolved as an artist from when you first started to where you are today?
BF: I think I’m better at it now, at least more of it is ruled my unconscious after all these years. I hope I listen better to my collaborators, too. But I’m also feeling like I have gotten to do a lot of the things I hoped to, and need to redefine goals periodically.
MP: You're celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Flecktones this year. Why do you think the band has been able to persevere for three decades now?
BF: We love each other and share a lot of wonderful history. Plus, I think we have always been very compatible, and that hasn’t changed. Breaks help us stay invigorated as well. When we get back to it, it’s 100 percent. MP: What can fans expect at the upcoming Montana concert?
BF: 100 percent fun and invention. MP: Do you have any fond memories of performing in Montana or anecdotes of travelling through the state?
BF: I’ve had the pleasure of playing Montana throughout the years of touring. I don’t get there often but I love getting to that part of the country. I like to bring the music to more remote areas. In fact, I think it’s a part of my job.
MP: This year also marks the 40th anniversary of your album *Crossing The Tracks (Rounder Records) -- what did you take away from making that album?
BF: For years I couldn’t listen to it because I hadn’t yet arrived at the sound and style I was looking for. I would find it irritating. There is a statute of limitations for disliking one’s own music, maybe it’s the 20-year mark. But at some point I started to appreciate what the record was rather than what it wasn’t! Pretty good actually for just having played for four years or so! And you can hear everywhere I was heading.
MP: You're also working with Che Apalache, how did you end up connecting with them? Has that been a rewarding experience?
BF: Love the guys and this project. For folks that don’t know them, it is a band from Argentina which mixes bluegrass and music from their part of the world. It’s also socially conscious, the guys have a lot to say.
MP: What are the plans for the rest of the year?
BF: There’s a lot happening, from completing and releasing recordings, to touring with Flecktones, Chick Corea, Abigail Washburn, and some orchestra shows. One show, at Red Rocks in Denver [May 30] is with a symphony, Flecktones, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Abigail. That’s a big one!
MP: You've cited “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme (“The Ballad Of Jed Clampett”) and “Dueling Banjos” as two major influences on you. Which of the two is tougher to perform?
BF: Neither are hard technically to play, I am a little more attracted to “Beverly Hillbillies” because of the association with Earl Scruggs who played it.
MP: Do you do anything in particular to keep your hands/fingers in proper picking order?
BF: Warm up, don’t push too hard, keep your metronome handy!
Bela Fleck and The Flecktones play at the Wilma Theatre in Missoula on June 1 ahead of stops in Garden City, Idaho; Spokane, Washington and Eugene, Oregon. The band then head to California for gigs in Sacramento, Oakland and Los Angeles. After a few weeks off, the quartet heads to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival to start a portion of the tour that includes visits to El Prado, New Mexico; Salina, Kansas; Oklahoma City; Cleveland and Fort Wayne, Indiana on June 29.