Bela Fleck’ Bluegrass Heart
Over the last four decades, Béla Fleck has made a point of boldly going where no banjo player has gone before, a musical journey that has earned him 15 Grammys in nine different fields, including Country, Pop, Jazz, Instrumental, Classical and World Music. But his roots are in bluegrass, and that’s where he returns with his first bluegrass tour in 24 years, My Bluegrass Heart.
My Bluegrass Heart is the third chapter of a trilogy which began with the 1988 album, Drive, and continued in 1991 with The Bluegrass Sessions. The project features a who’s who of some of the greatest instrumentalists in bluegrass music’s history alongside some of the best of the new generation of players mandolinists Sam Bush, Sierra Hull, and Chris Thile; fiddlers Michael Cleveland and Stuart Duncan; celebrated multi-instrumentalist Justin Moses, bassists Edgar Meyer and Mark Schatz, and the amazing Bryan Sutton and Molly Tuttle on guitar.
My Bluegrass Heart will tour in two different iterations. The first…
For folks that know bluegrass, these folks need no introduction, as they’ve been making a ton of noise in that world for some time.
I have almost always played and recorded my bluegrass projects with the folks from my own age and peer group — Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, David Grisman, Tony Rice, Mark O’Connor, etc. But for this new album, I wanted to open up to the fresh and powerfully evolved musicians who have come along since us, and partly because of us! The first tour will feature some of these players.
I first got to know Sierra Hull when she asked me to produce her album, Weighted Mind. She is a shockingly good player, with more than enough ability to play my admittedly angular and sometimes complex form of bluegrass. So I’m thrilled to finally be able to do some live playing with her and take it to the moon!
I’ve been knocked out by fiddler Michael Cleveland for some time now. I just didn’t know if he’d be interested in playing with me, as I knew him as a hardcore bluegrass player. To my happy surprise, not only was he interested, but he brings a power and drive to my stuff, and an ensemble concept that for some reason I wasn’t expecting.
My pal Bryan Sutton, a stunner of a flat picker and one of the bright lights of the bluegrass guitar continuum has been my cohort in the Telluride House Band as well as an acoustic trio that I toured with some years back with Casey Driessen. But playing on this new album he impressed me over and again with his flexibility and raw ability.
Bassist Mark Schatz and I started playing together way back in 77’, in a Boston Bluegrass band unfortunately named Tasty Licks! We moved together to Lexington, KY in 79’ to start Spectrum. In 81’ I joined New Grass Revival, and he went on to play with Tony Rice, Tim O’Brien, and Nickel Creek among many others. I’m thrilled to be reunited with my old, right-hand man, Mark!
I was stumped for a while as to what to do about the double fiddle and dobro parts on the recording, until I realized there was one guy who could do both — and a whole lot more. Justin Moses is a great mandolinist, banjoist, and a great singer to boot. He’s gonna be our wild card. He will be grabbing the fiddle to double fiddle with Michael, switching to dobro, then jumping to banjo for a double banjo number, and mandolin for the double mando track from the album. So I’m amazed I could get all that in one very talented guy.
As you can imagine, I’m very excited to play with these guys. We’ve all been locked up for so long and we’re dying to get out there and play some music!
And for the second band…
I’m so looking forward to reuniting with my musical brothers on tour. For folks that know bluegrass, these folks need no introduction, as they’ve been making a ton of noise in that world for some time.
Sometimes known as the Telluride House Band, sometimes as the Drive Band, containing within it four-fifths of Strength in Numbers, half of New Grass Revival, and half of Goat Rodeo, these 6 musicians have been intertwining in a myriad of ways since the early 1980’s and all have been major movers in the forward progression of acoustic music to the present day.
I first met mandolinist Sam Bush in 1979, when he was kind enough to play on my first banjo album, Crossing The Tracks. He was a huge hero to me and quite the musical dynamo. Over the eight and a half years I played in his band New Grass Revival, I probably learned more about music than any other time in my life.
With Dobro god Jerry Douglas, it’s pretty much the same story – he blew me away musically, and was the one who told me I needed to come to Nashville to join up with Sam…and was he ever right. He is another hero who has become a peer.
Edgar Meyer moved to Nashville next and turned all our worlds upside down, inspiring us with a new way of looking at the music, and a stunning ability on upright bass.
Then Stuart Duncan showed up. I prided myself on being to him what Jerry Douglas had been to me – encouraging him to move to Nashville to play with Nashville Bluegrass Band. Somehow Stuart has managed to elevate bluegrass fiddling dramatically in earthy and unexpected ways.
Meanwhile over in Ricky Skaggs’ band was a young guitarist making a lot of noise. Jerry informed me that he was one of us, and he was not wrong! When Tony Rice had to drop out of the Bluegrass Sessions tour, Bryan Sutton stepped in and knocked it out of the park. Ever since then I have loved playing with him.
When we get together it’s like family, and we draw on our long history of joyful and exciting musical interactions.