Michael Cleveland with the Louisville Orchestra in March

When bluegrass fiddle virtuoso Michael Cleveland was a boy in school, he remembers the first field trip they took was to see the Louisville Orchestra. His school had a fine music program, and he was studying classical music then using the Suzuki Method. That performance in Louisville left a mark on the young fiddler, who recalls that, “When they hit that first note… wow. What a sound!”

Now, thirty years later, Michael is scheduled to perform with that same Louisville Orchestra on March 10. He and his band, Flamekeeper, have a date with the Pops, where they will play eight of the songs they have recorded with the symphony, as well as several on their own. The orchestra will also be featured alone on a number of brief classical pieces.

Michael explained a bit about how this all came to be…

“We’re all really excited to do this show. There’s a relatively new conductor with the Louisville symphony, Teddy Abrams. He and I have collaborated before around here with some jazz guys. Teddy is a great player himself, on piano and clarinet. We played together on an album called The Louisville Accord, that matched area musicians with unlikely duo partners. They put us in a room together and had us write and record something together. It was a lot of fun working with Teddy in the studio, plus we got to perform the piece at Churchill Downs.

He said to me one day that it would be cool to do something with our band and the orchestra. I figured it was just talk, but next thing I know, I get an email from someone with the orchestra about setting up a date.

Man, it’s gonna be fun, and different from anything we’ve ever done before.”

Cleveland has been working with arranger Brad Richey, who has created orchestral parts for eight songs from Flamekeeper albums for them to do together. Based on the MIDI files he has heard, Michael says that it’s going to be a great concert.

The songs they have chosen will be familiar to the many Flamekeeper fans in the bluegrass world.

  • Northern White Clouds
  • The Lonesome Desert
  • The Garden Wall
  • Too Late for Goodbyes
  • That Ol’ Train
  • The Sunny Side of Town
  • Blue Violet Waltz
  • Leavin’ Town

Not only is Michael excited about working with the orchestra, he’s stoked to be performing at Louisville’s Whitney Hall. “I’ve never played there, but I’ve watched many shows there. I saw Vince Gill and Mark O’Connor there – another dream come true for me.”

And after the March 10 concert, Flamekeeper gets to keep the arrangements, opening up the possibility of them doing shows with other pops orchestras around the country.

“Getting to perform for audiences that aren’t accustomed to bluegrass is exciting for us. It’s been proved over and over that when you put bluegrass out in front of a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the music, they go crazy for it.”

Tickets are available now online for the concert, starting at $27. Like other Pops events, food and bar service are available prior to the performance, with drinks available during the show.

It promises to be an interesting mix in the audience, and a powerful musical presentation on stage.

As Michael told us today, “I can’t wait to hear it myself!”

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.