He keeps plucking away

Banjo star Bela Fleck is comfortable in many genres.
Bela Fleck has changed the way many in the world look at banjo music. He visits Grand Rapids in November. Courtesy Alan Messer

For more than 30 years, Bela Fleck has helped redefine how listeners across the globe think about the banjo.

Touring to support his newest album, “My Bluegrass Heart,” Fleck will make a stop in Grand Rapids with a show Nov. 27 at DeVos Performance Hall.

The album is Fleck’s first bluegrass album in more than 20 years, following 1988’s “Drive” and 1999’s “The Bluegrass Sessions.” The album comes a year after he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame as a member of New Grass Revival, a long-time band he joined in 1981 and played with until 1989.

“They nearly always come back, all the people that leave bluegrass,” Fleck said. “I had a strong feeling that I’d be back as well.”

The 15-time Grammy Award winner has spent his career flowing between genres, ranging from that original bluegrass to others including classical, jazz and world music. Perhaps best known for his own band, The Flecktones, he’s helped meld genres and introduce several generations to the world of banjo.

Along the way, Fleck said he doesn’t change how he plays all that much.

“My dirty little secret is that I don’t play that differently from genre to genre,” he said. “It’s all about the musicians I surround myself with. Bluegrass though — it’s central to everything I do.”

The Flecktones are made up of incredible musicians in their own right: Victor Wooten, Roy Wooten and Howard Levy. They play a range of music from jazz to funk, interspersing it with world music.

Fleck’s other collaborations include duos with jazz artist Chick Corea, his life partner Abigail Washburn, the Brooklyn Rider String Quartet, and more. He also made the documentary, “Throw Down Your Heart,” which explores the African origins of the banjo.

This story can be found in the November/December 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here

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