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Bela's Coming Back to Town

Bela Fleck spoke to KSMU from New Orleans La., where he performed his Banjo Concerto with the Louisiana Philharmonic Saturday, January 10th.  Bela Fleck has earned 15 Grammy Awards, and has 30 nominations in the most musical categories in Grammy history.  Bela Fleck’s latest CD, recorded with his wife, is titled Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn and was released by Rounder Records last October. 

Asked what the audience will experience with Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn at the Gillioz Jan. 14th, Fleck said “Well, I hope they like banjos.  We’ll be bringing 7 or 8 banjos with us, and we’ll trade off on different instrument combinations for different songs.  We have Cello Banjos, a Ukulele Banjo,  a Fretless Banjo.  I’ve got one I call The Missing Link which is a Baritone Banjo tuned way down kind of like John Hartford liked to use.  Of course we have our regular banjos, my Gibson Flathead Mastertone from 1937, and Abby’s Ome Jubilee, which she likes a lot.”

Mike Smith says…” The (song selection) CD Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, is a combination that works.”   Bela responds:  “Well, thank you!  It feels traditional in some ways hearing the banjos play together, but truth is, it’s pretty rare when a Clawhammer Banjo and a Bluegrass Banjo play together.  We find ways to ripple together and we end up doing a good bit of traditional material on the record too.  It feels really right.  We’re both Ripplers, she ripples with her Clawhammer style and I Ripple with my 3 Finger Bluegrass style, but we connect on those 16th and 8th notes.  And Abigails’ voice is very true, it hits somewhere deep in the listener.  That’s why I’ve loved her music since the day I met her.”

Mike Smith:  “This project and your gig at the Gillioz will fit well here in the Ozarks.  You have just enough of the Hill Sound going on.”  Bela Fleck:  “Yea, I’m glad to hear you think that.  I feel like it really has an old sound but ironically it’s something that hasn’t been done a lot before, but we’re both high on ourselves and think we’re in to something worthwhile.  And the key to this is we wanted to tour together so we wouldn’t be apart all the time. We’ve been together over 10 years now and had this little baby boy, Juno Jasper Washburn Fleck, and had to figure out a way not to be apart all the time.  So maybe now is the time to build our duo musically and travel as a family. We made this record and now are touring together as a family band.”

Asked what inspires him to make a transition from one musical style to another, Bela Fleck says:  “The best way to put it is I’m very curious about music.  Occasionally I hear something that I’m so curious about, the only way I can learn about it is to immerse myself in it.  Growing up in New York in the 60’s and hearing everything I heard, yea, I was interested in Jazz and Irish, World Music, Classical, Indian music.  It all sounded great to me.  When I’m interested and fascinated I can’t stop playing the banjo.  I get addicted to that feeling.”

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn will perform at The Gillioz Theater in Springfield Wednesday, January 14th at 8pm.  For Information,     

Mike Smith's career at KSMU began in 1980 as a student announcer when the former Navy Submariner attended (then) SMSU with help from the GI Bill. In 1982 Smith became a full time member of the KSMU family as "Chief Announcer", responsible for the acquisition, training and scheduling of the student announcing staff. It was also in 1982 when Smith first produced "Seldom Heard Music" a broadcast of Bluegrass which is still heard on KSMU and every Saturday night at 7CT.