• 149 WESTCHESTER AVENUE, PORT CHESTER, NY 10573-4549 · (914) 937-4126

  • July 10th, 2018

    reCAP :: Bela Fleck & The Flecktones :: 2018.06.30

    Words by: Jenny Ferguson
    Photos by: Scott Harris

    It is a truly remarkable experience to witness an audience before and after a Flecktones concert. Patrons slowly fill the rows, a feeling of uncertainty and anticipation hangs in the air. Even veteran fans can’t predict what sort of journey Béla Fleck and his outrageously talented band will take them on tonight. What happens next can only be compared to a hurricane of music: powerful, surreal, and unpredictable. In the end, all that is left is an electrified and windblown crowd, stumbling away with a newfound sense of wonder and exhilaration.

    I was luckily seated next to a first-timer, regularly shouting exclamations like “but a banjo can’t do that!” and “where is that sound coming from?” A Flecktone concert is a beautiful and confusing miracle to rookies. Watching them perform live is the closest thing to discovering music for the first time. It’s a brand new sensation. Pointedly uncategorizable, they flip genres on a dime, interweaving styles from all corners of the planet into what can only be described as uniquely Flecktone. Perhaps what is most surprising, is the clarity that prevails in this smorgasbord of music. They guide you through the experience as if you are their passenger, teaching you how to listen by anchoring you to a particular instrument or phrase, and then sending you whirling off to the next destination.

    On their 30th anniversary, the band is back to their original line-up: Banjo legend, Béla Fleck; bassist, Victor Wooten; percussionist and Drumitarist, Roy “Futureman” Wooten; and the returning Howard Levy on piano and harmonica. “At our fist gig we didn’t even know we were a band yet,” says Levy to the audience, reflecting back on the 1988 PBS Lonesome Pine Special, in which Fleck first united these four superstar musicians. Luckily for music lovers everywhere, the band quickly recognized their common passion, talent for innovation, and fierce creative drive. The “fab four” played together until Levy’s departure in 1992, who was later replaced by saxophonist, Jeff Coffin. In a twist of fate, Levy, rejoined the Flecktones for their 2009 tour and the subsequent record, Rocket Science.

    It was apparent that this show may have been the first time fans were seeing Levy play with the Flecktones since the 90s. His tall, thin, shaggy-hair silhouette was first to appear on stage and sent the crowd into a fit of applause, only to be topped later in the set with a standing ovation. Overwhelmed by his reception, Levy gave a heartfelt thank you to the audience, expressing genuine gratitude and fascination that so many people appreciate his music. This is a band that hasn’t been tainted or manipulated by fame. The mutual respect doled out by audience and band shows a particular reverence for live music that isn’t uncommon when artist and patron join forces at The Cap.

    The Flecktones push their instruments to the brink of possibility, and when that is not enough, they invent their own. Futureman’s Drumitar allows him to play a full contemporary drum kit on a guitar-shaped instrument, granting him more mobility and flexibility than any would expect from the renowned percussionist. It was a wonder to watch as he played what must have been one of the most dynamic drum solos to grace this stage: one hand fingering the Drumitar, the other bouncing back and forth from the drum kit to the xylophone, both feet pounding away at the paddles below. How one man can so dexterously master his instruments and body at once to create this impossible solo is a testament to his unmatched musical talent, and is a privilege to witness first-hand.

    However, this uncanny ability to smash limits and reinvent instruments is actually not altogether unique in this band. Howard Levy makes the harmonica sound like a full string quartet in his quirky and fantastical compilation of well-known classical pieces and pop culture themes. Fleck bends the will of his banjo from contemporary jazz to Appalachian bluegrass at the flip of a switch. Wooten’s bass is a chameleon at the command of it’s chief, who approaches the instrument at times like a piano or drum. Each member could be a band in themselves, and this is what makes their music so explosive and unlike anything else.

    Even as music fans, we don’t always get the pleasure of being struck and stunned-silent by awe. To newcomers and veteran fans alike, a night with the Flecktones is a welcoming shock to the system. May they continue to force us out of our comfort zones and redraw the boundaries of music for many more years.