Béla Fleck talks about his Bluegrass Happening

Everybody look what’s going down! Straight off the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Béla Fleck grabbed his all-star My Bluegrass Heart band and teamed up with best buds, Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas, and their bands to create happenings at special spots around the country. Happenings? Bluegrass Happenings! What pray tell are those? 

Well, it is world-renowned, Grammy-laden banjo player Béla Fleck presenting music from his recently-released Grammy-winning double-album, My Bluegrass Heart: his first bluegrass record in 20 years after his acclaimed Tales From The Acoustic Planet, Vol. 2, The Bluegrass Sessions, which was the sequel to his hailed Drive album. But that is not it. It is Béla with bluegrass mavens, Bryan Sutton, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Michael Cleveland, and Mark Schatz, which comprise this iteration of Béla’s My Bluegrass Heart band. Each an irrefutable master who throws down Béla’s plethora of euphonic, original My Bluegrass Heart tunes with vim and style.

And, if that is not enough, Béla’s long-time musical cronies, Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas, are joining this tour. Both Sam and Jerry played on My Bluegrass Heart. In fact, they also played on Tales From The Acoustic Planet, Vol. 2 and, cue the goosebumps, also on Béla’s first album ever in 1979: Crossing the Tracks. 43 years ago! Bela, Sam and Jerry have been playing together in different collaborations for a long, wonderful time. But, nothing like the current Bluegrass Happenings.

Dubbed the King of Telluride for his perch atop the bluegrass peak, Sam Bush is a newgrass pioneer, a mandolin marvel, a spectacular singer, and a fiddling phenomenon. He has constantly pushed the boundaries of bluegrass, and inspired myriad musicians following in his tracks. Oh, those many years ago, Béla was encouraged to think about who he really wanted on his first album so, as he explained:

“I started listening to everyone out there really carefully and started thinking who would be the best fiddle player to get, and I just found that I just love Sam Bush’s fiddling. Most people talk about him as being an unbelievable mandolin player, but I always thought his fiddle playing had this special soul. Very bluesy. Lots of bluegrass trad in there but also a very creative mindset.”

While their musical relationship started way back then, Béla and Sam’s bond is long, rich, and solid as a rock still today. “Sam Bush is in my blood,” says Béla. “The way we play together after eight and a half years in New Grass Revival, and then all the different things we’ve done since, we play like one person a lot of the time. And, that is a very special thing. You can’t make new old friends, you know?”

Jerry Douglas, probably the grooviest dude to grace the bluegrass scene, will be taking the Bluegrass Happening stage as well with pals, Sam and Béla. Jerry, the world’s preeminent dobro master, has also been playing with Béla for ions. Béla explained that Jerry also played on a couple tunes on his first album:

“It was amazing. I got him to play on a tune called Spain, and he was obviously the cat of the dobro even at that age. He was in his early twenties maybe. He has been a star since he had been in his teens. 

And, on their relationship now and Jerry’s playing, Béla expounded:

“We have all these years of musical dialogue and interaction. There has always been an amazing warmth between us when we play music. He is such a soulful character and a warm person, and it comes out in his music. He is one of the great melody players to ever pick up any instrument, and he is such a soulful player and improviser.”

But get this — which explodes the whole event into an absolute Happening, not just a show: both Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas have their bands with them! Wait. What? That’s right, it is Sam Bush with his band, the Jerry Douglas Band, and the My Bluegrass Heart Band. Whoa! It is going to be out of control good.  

Sam and his band rock it like no other. Accompanied by Stephen Mougin, Todd Parks, Wes Corbett, and Chris Brown, Sam delivers traditional bluegrass, newgrass, funk, reggae, and everything in between and nearby with quick-fingered precise playing and sweet-sounding vocals. And, the Jerry Douglas Band is a fireball of jazz, blues, country, swing, and a boatload of soul. You have to catch them play; it is astounding.

So, a Bluegrass Happening is like a traveling bluegrass festival wrapped up into one unbelievable evening. Béla’s thoughts:

“For me, of course, it is candy because I am not only going to get to play with the band I have with me for My Bluegrass Heart, but I will have Sam and Jerry come out and sit in on a couple of tunes. I get an extended My Bluegrass Heart lineup and have these bigger groupings, which I love. The band starts to turn into almost an orchestra on some of the songs – with different people playing different parts and orchestrating different lines. I love that! 

But, also Sam has an incredible band, a legacy band, that is still fresh and contributing great music. And, Jerry’s group is so good. They are just kickass and unusual, and so very Jerry.

Sam and Jerry are both two of the greatest musicians that we have in our bluegrass world, or I would say the whole musical world period. For me, just to be around those guys is a really big piece of why I wanted to do this project: so I could be interacting with them, which I wasn’t doing very much in these years of Flecktones and my collaborations with Chick Corea and Abigail Washburn.”

So, hey! What’s that sound? There is, indeed, something happening here. A Bluegrass Happening! A unique joining of three epic bluegrass forces — which you are not going to want to miss. Check out Béla’s touring schedule online now.

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About the Author

Jen Hughes

Jen Hughes is a devoted bluegrass enthusiast. An Upstate New York native who resides in Washington, D.C., Jen attends shows in and around the Nation’s capital, a bluegrass haven. She also makes the trek to as many festivals as possible each year. The sweet sounds of New Grass Revival took hold of her in high school and she has studied up on the genre backwards and forwards since then. Her hope is to get even more people hooked as she is on bluegrass music and its extraordinary artists and community.