In 1988, banjo player Béla Fleck gathered three musicians – bassist Victor Wooten, percussionist Roy “FutureMan” Wooten and Howard Levy on harmonica and keys – to act as his backing band for a one-off performance on PBS’ “Lonesome Pine Special.”
It quickly became apparent to the quartet however that something special happened during the performance, with Fleck, in an email, calling the experience incredible.
“It seemed like we hadn’t even cracked the surface of what was possible,” Fleck said. “It showed such crazy potential that everyone was psyched to do more. And it was also the response – people went bat poop, as they say when you have kids around!”
Two years later after their first performance together, Fleck and the trio, dubbed the Flecktones, released their self-titled debut album.
All four musicians have spent time on other projects over the years, but nine albums and 30 years later, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones are still going strong.
To celebrate their 30th anniversary, the quartet is embarking on a cross-country tour, which brings them to the Bing Crosby Theater on Monday.
Q. What were the initial conversations about a 30th anniversary tour like? Was everyone on board right away?
A. We’ve been meeting up every year for the last several, even if it’s just for two or three weeks. The enthusiasm is there. This year folks had a little more space and no conflicting projects. Everyone signed on immediately.
Q. Can you tell me about the thought process behind the set list for this tour? Without giving too much away, what songs can fans look forward to hearing?
A. We’ve been enjoying excavating pieces from the early days that we haven’t played for 27 years or so! We had a rehearsal a few weeks ago and everyone kind of fell in love with a very hard tune called “Jekyll and Hyde (And Ted and Alice).” We spent the bulk of the rehearsal on this one tune and some on “Turtle Rock,” which also hasn’t seen the light for 25 years. The stuff we’ve been playing in recent years comes back so fast. It’s in our DNA, I guess, at this point.
But some of these others are really fun to pull out. Folks are in a place of really appreciating each other, and what we’ve accomplished. When we listen back to the stuff from 1992, we go “Wow, we were busy little beavers.” I’m really glad we took the time to get that stuff right back then.
Q. How, if at all, does the non-Flecktones music you make influence the music you make with the group?
A. All of us bring our new selves to the Flecktones. All the different experiences make us better players with deeper tool kits, and more confidence.
Q. You all released your 10th album “Rocket Science” in 2011. Has there been any talk of releasing new music with the Flecktones?
A. Not at the moment, but some day perhaps.
Q. How has the chemistry between you and the Flecktones changed over the last three decades?
A. It’s still very strong. I don’t know that the basic chemical connection ever changes that much, which is a great thing in this case.
Q. What Flecktones-related experiences from the last 30 years really stand out to you?
A. Golly – all the big TV stuff we’ve done, opening for Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia Band, Dave Matthews Band and other great bands, the “H.O.R.D.E.” tour, with Phish, Blues Traveler and Aquarium Rescue Unit, playing Telluride Bluegrass Festival many times, touring two years back with Chick Corea Elektric Band, etc. It’s an amazing ride.
Q. Is there anything on your bucket list that you’d still like to accomplish with the Flecktones?
A. Hey, I just would love for us to continue to interact and celebrate our friendship regularly. I love these guys. Wonderful things will come up for us to do. They always have.
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