Béla on the Rocks with a heavy dose of class

Béla Fleck gathered his inimitable soulmates at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the most bespoke spot for music in Colorado, on May 30 to present an evening of pure joy and elevation. With his fellow rocket men, Béla launched this year’s 30th anniversary tour of Béla Fleck and The Flecktones, and also surrounded himself with Abigail Washburn, Jerry Douglas, and, if you can believe it, The Colorado Symphony. He aptly cast the event as “Béla Fleck Friends & Family,” and it was not long into the evening that we all felt as friends, happily caught up in the wide net of music Fleck has flung over the genres.

Throughout, Béla showcased various chapters of his musical career to date. So many facets of how he did that made the event extra special. To start, it was the first time ever that both Howard Levy and Jeff Coffin played together in The Flecktones. Prior, fans could only refer to the Howard era or the Jeff era. Here, we had both musical maniacs on stage at the same time. We could barely keep it together as Howard and Jeff traded turns belting out the Tones’ signature riffs on some of their classics, such as Stomping Grounds, Sunset Road, and Sinister Minister. Very cool, too, that The Flecktones played a song each with just Howard and just Jeff so that Howard could wow all with his harmonious harp on Life in Eleven, and Jeff could floor the field with his simultaneous multiple sax playing during a euphoric Throwdown at The Hoedown. Béla’s expert rolls and skilled solos along with Victor Wooten’s contagious grooves and Futureman’s oh-so exotic beats, mixed it altogether. What a treat to witness the purple hippo-decked Deering Crossfire in action again, and we even got some bass twirls from Vic and vocals from Futch. Spectacular. That historic Howard and Jeff Flecktones combination is forever etched in our memories.

Another amazing aspect of the show was Béla’s bluegrass buddy, Jerry Douglas, jumping in on Flecktones songs, dobro-ifying them up and making them sound so wonderfully good. He accentuated the curves as we cruised down Sunset Road, got downright down and dirty during Sinister, and made Lochs of Dread even more delightfully eerie. Jerry also joined Béla to deliver Another Morning, a classic duet of theirs so beautiful we could hear it every morning and never tire. We bluegrassers in the crowd went crazy for Claude, the Symphony violinist, who threw down some raw fiddling in the middle of that one.

And, that leads to the element that made the night absolutely extravagant: The Colorado Symphony was on stage with Béla and friends the entire evening, adding unbelievable color, grandeur, and flair to the night’s music. 

Béla elegantly showed off portions of his Juno and Impostor concertos with the Symphony at the end of the first set and beginning of the second. Turned out to be perfect timing for us to reflect on this virtuoso, who wrote all the parts for those classical pieces as if mastering bluegrass, Americana, jazz, funk, and more with the banjo was not enough. 

Abigail Washburn and Béla joined the symphony to present three tunes from their duo work. The rich symphony sounds coupled with Abby’s moving vocals, the wind, and lightning in the distance made for an incredibly enchanting And Am I Born to Die. And, the symphony’s send off for Bloomin’ Rose with refrains from Rose E’re Blooming was simply stunning. Take Me to Harlan gave Abby the chance to clog for a completely new set of fans. Not sure the Symphony crowd had ever seen the likes of that before! Now, quite sure, they will be seeking it out.

It is hard to capture in words the absolute thrill and resulting elation from the symphony’s accompaniment on the Flecktones’ numbers. Was it the uniqueness of the bass clarinetist soloing the Lochs of Dread melody? Or, was it the army of violins rising up to have Sunset Road meet us? Or, the host of strings boldly performing Howard’s part on Sinister Minister? Or, the blast of horns and crescendo-ing orchestral waves enhancing County Clare?

It was all of the above and more. The bottom-line was the sheer talent on stage. Béla and his friends and family brandished their craft with class. From the opening notes of the breathtaking Big Country to the closing roars of County Clare, it was a show for the ages. The rain fell briefly on those red-hewn rocks just after Big Country closed: sure evidence that God wept with us that night at the beauty of the music, at the beauty of the setting, at the beauty of the moment. 

If you missed Red Rocks, know that The Flecktones are presently tearing it up as they continue to jet around the United States, and that Béla and Abigail will glide into their tour come late Summer.  Check dates here www.belafleck.com/tour and go to some shows. 

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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.