Fleck’s latest album, “My Bluegrass Heart,” was released last September by Renew Records. It received the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album in April and features special guests like Billy Strings, Sierra Hull, Sam Bush, Chris Thile and Molly Tuttle. The album is the final installment of a trilogy that includes “Drive” (1988) and “The Bluegrass Sessions” (1999).
Fleck recently reflected on his new music in advance of his appearance.
Q: If you had a musical motto, what would it be?
A: Work hard, be yourself and don’t eat the green M&M’s.
Q: You’ve been exploring other musical areas but why did it take two decades to get back to a Béla Fleck bluegrass album with ‘My Bluegrass Heart’?
A: A big part of it was the many cool opportunities to do new things exploring jazz, classical, African and Indian music and how they might be played on banjo. The other part was that my favorite guitarist, Tony Rice, was becoming a recluse and without him, I wasn’t as excited to record. When 20 years went by, I started getting cold sweats. What if this never happened again? Combining this with a close call with a dear family member and I felt like I wanted to reconnect with my bluegrass community.
Q: You’re used to working with a fixed band in the studio but ‘My Bluegrass Heart’ has different collections of players. What were the pros and cons of this approach?
A: The pro is that I could cast the songs with different people’s skills in mind. In some cases, I wrote with the musicians in mind that I was gonna be recording the pieces with. I didn’t overwhelm any of the musicians with having to learn so many pieces. That was good too. In this case, I can’t think of any negatives. If I had used a fixed group and then anyone was not available to tour, that would have been negative too. In this case I have a lot of folks who were involved in the project, who I can build touring groups out of.
Q: What can audiences expect from these shows with Sam Bush and the Jerry Douglas Band?
A: These fantastic musicians are gonna do amazing sets before I come on with the My Bluegrass Heart Band, which is also chock full of the best players on the planet. And prepare for some collaborations!
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Q: What’s the best professional advice you’ve received?
A: Someone once told me to learn one musical idea from each musician you play with. It adds up!
Q: What is the current state of bluegrass music?
A: It’s in a great state as far as I can tell. (It’s) full of great musicians who are finding their own voices in the idiom. Also, there are lots of talented folks maintaining the older styles, which is a wonderful thing.
Q: You’ve covered a lot of musical styles. Is there an unexplored genre you’d like to try or a particular artist you’d like to work with?
A: I’m always looking for places I can learn and grow into. I’m not naming names though, in case they say no!
Q: Why are journalists so amazed you continue to work in different musical styles?
A: It’s a good question because it’s actually the most natural thing in the world for a musician to want to explore and expand their musical worlds. In fact, it’s our job!
Q: ‘My Bluegrass Heart’ only came out in September but do you know what’s next?
A: I do have a few albums ready to go that should release sometime during the next year or so. One is a duet project with Chick Corea, which was recorded before he passed, partly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The other is a quartet with my old pal, bass hero Edgar Meyer, collaborating with tabla icon and master Zakir Hussain and wood flute phenomenon Rakesh Churasia. That band will do some touring next year. Another project that is very special to me is a set with Abigail Washburn recorded at home during the pandemic called “Banjo House Lockdown.”
Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW TO GO
What: Bluegrass Happening with Béla Fleck & My Bluegrass Heart, Sam Bush and the Jerry Douglas Band
Where: Rose Music Center, 6800 Executive Blvd., Huber Heights
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, June 30. Doors open at 6 p.m.
More info: 513-232-6220 or www.rosemusiccenter.com
Artist info: www.belafleck.com