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July 05, 2007

7/3: Bela Fleck & Flecktones @ Ridgefield Playhouse, Ct.

While winning this Billboard contest is definitely one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me throughout my concert-going life, I realize that I can’t be greedy and expect a front row seat and press credentials for every show I go to this summer (though of course it would be nice)….and when going to a venue as intimate as the Ridgefield Playhouse, tucked away in a little walking town in Fairfield Connecticut, every seat feels like V.I.P. I mean, who needs a press pass when the venue you’re going to only holds 506 people?? Ridgefield Playhouse is a truly special place to see a concert and proves that the aura of a show’s setting can only enhance the performance experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love the excitement and energy at stadium shows, and I’ve been truly overwhelmed by the natural beauty of places like Red Rocks and The Gorge, but seeing a concert in a cozy theater like Ridgefield is a refreshing change of pace.

On nights when it’s not hosting live acts, the Playhouse actually doubles as a movie theater! No joke, Ratatouille is playing tomorrow night. Seriously, when was the last time you walked into a concert and were not only greeted with a warm smile, but were told that your “standing room only tix” (that you thankfully found on line at the last minute) were being upgraded to row J center orchestra? With no press pass in hand, but good concert karma on our side, my fellow concert-goers and I know tonight’s show is going to be unique. This feeling is only reinforced when we make our way down the short aisle to our seats. It’s not often that 10 rows from the stage feels like front row, but tonight it certainly does. Giddy with the anticipation of seeing one of the best live acts within such close proximity sets the tone for a great night.


So while Bela Fleck and the Flecktones is not an “official” Billboard assignment, I can’t pass up the chance to share the wonderment that is this band. I first saw these guys open up for Dave Matthews Band back in 1997, and I was immediately blown away. They are, quite possibly, the most talented group of musicians out there today. They are jazz, bluegrass, country, funk, rock, r&b, pop and world music all rolled into one. The vast appeal of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones is evidenced by their diverse audience. From 30-somethings like myself to baby-boomers (with their own teenage sons and daughters in tow) to the moppy-haired, bike-riding hippie in the parking lot who finally found his one “miracle ticket”…there’s something for everyone. If you love music, you can’t not love Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. The best way to describe them is that they are an explosion of music on the stage. Each player is so talented in his respective instrumental family (yes, that’s family…not merely one instrument per player), that it’s overwhelming to figure out which one of them to watch.


Let’s start with Bela Fleck—front man, founder and world-renown banjo player. Put your preconceived notions of banjo-picking hoe downs and square dances aside. This guy’s fingers move so quickly up and down the banjo that he’s as mesmerizing to watch as he is to listen to. No exaggeration, he even used his chin at one point to help him play the arm of his banjo! Then, there’s Jeff Coffin, who is literally a one man horn section. He plays everything from sax to flute to penny whistle. Futureman is a percussionist the likes of which you’ve never seen. He invented his own instrument called the Drumitar (combo of guitar and drum, duh) and can also somehow manage to play the real drums and keyboard at the same time. Ridiculous! Finally, there’s Victor Wooten, a bassist who doesn’t even need a band to back him—he loops his own beats live on stage. In other words, he records his jam session and then plays it back, only to add live verses on top of the original one.


So now that you’ve gotten a quick overview of the band, let’s move on to the actual show!  The lights dim, and what seems to be a sophisticated CT. crowd bursts into whistles and applause as one by one the members move on stage.  Bela thanks us for coming, gives a nod to the “nice place you got here,” and the music starts.  You feel taken by the sound as it surrounds you (the acoustics in here sound nearly perfect!), while the pluck of the banjo gets you grooving. Each band member seems lost in his own world, yet their individual sounds blend together beautifully. And then, all of a sudden, they are perfectly back in sync and you realize that what seemed to be total improvisation is more likely a previously rehearsed jam session. It’s like they have a certain foundation but are able to go off on their own solos. They’re all on the same path, but can divert in their own directions along the way—for ultimately, they’re going to meet up again en route to their final destination. More than anything, their ability to find their way back to one another is a testament of just how well these 4 men know and can play off each other’s musical instincts. As mellow grooves escalate to melodic ruckuses on the stage, the crowd erupts in hoots and howls, and the 2+ hr. show is off and running.


You can tell Bela Fleck and the Flecktones are intense musicians—from the way Wooten plays with his eyes closed and head grooving to the way Coffin injects his whole body into his sax solos (not to mention head turning red and veins bulging). That being said, these guys haven’t left their senses of humor backstage. One of the coolest parts of their performances is watching them banter back and forth with one another, via instrument. Bela and Coffin are hysterical together. It’s almost like a “Hey, see if you can top this!” competition between the two of them, until one of them skips a beat and busts out with a chuckle. And that is the essence of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones—amazing music combined with great fun (although isn’t all amazing music synonymous with fun??). Anyway, if you haven’t experienced these guys live yet, RUN, don’t walk, to their next closest show. I’m anticipating their 2nd tune of the night, aptly titled “Paris Is Free,” to be topping the charts any day now!

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Oh do I love the lady rockers! Nice overview of the show... I saw Joan Jett perform a few years ago in NYC and she still can take down the house... Keep up the great reviews!

Laurie K

I have to admit, never did hear of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, but as soon as I read FUNK and R&B, I perked up. Sounds like a great show, keep me posted on future NYC performances.

Ally K

You have such a way with words that it made me feel I was in the audience! I really enjoyed reading that and wish I was there with you. Sounded like a great show and I know you love a good show, with terrific seats!

Jack L.

Absolutely right on with props for Bela and the boys. Nice review Leslie. Hey do they still toss out the stuffed animal(s) at the end of the concert? I forget what the animal is supposed to represent but I caught one at a concert a gizillion years ago. For more Bela listening, check out his new collaboration with Chick Corea.


Thanks so much for the positive feedback! And yes, they do still toss the little, red furry animals after the show....but have no idea what they are either.


I definitely remember bela fleck opening for Dave! Brings me back to the good old college years! Vic Wooten is def. one of the best bass players of all time! Keep the shows coming!


Amazing show! The four of them are truly some of the best and we couldn't have seen them in a better setting, as intimate as the Ridgefield Playhouse. You summarized the experience perfectly!


wow...i felt like i was right there.i have always heard of them but never got to listen to them...your description made me go out and get the cd..thanks!

Josh L

Haven't seen a flecktones show for a few years now, but your review brings me back to the days of 20-minute bass solos and covers of Copeland's "Rodeo". By the way, the red stuffed animals are a reference to one of their early albums (before Coffin joined the group): flight of the COSMIC HIPPO.

Looking forward to more reviews.

Bryan H

I see that Bela and the gang are still going strong! Last time I saw Bela was with Dave Matthews Band at Randall's Island. Keep up the good work and enjoy your Summer!

Marc H

Ridgefield Playhouse is an interesting setting for a concert. Parking is a bit of a nightmare, but it's as intimate as watching a high school musical. Definitely a venue worth visiting along a concert tour. Seems like you enjoyed it.

Jody W

I've never seen these guys before but based on your review I want to check them out for sure next time they're here!

Margie v

Great review. Love your writing, makes me feel like I am there. I played his CD, Perpetual Motion while I was reading the review Keep up the good vibes, Miss

Megan R

Wow! Another excellent review! I have heard a lot about Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, but only after your review do I actually want to check them out! You make us want to be at the concert, and we almost feel like we were.


Sounds like a great show! YOu inspired me to look them up!


I've heard of them, but never thought of going to see the Flecktones. Your article was so descriptive you make me want to check them out. Felt like I was there with you. Keep up the good work. Thanks


Nice write up...you must be an english teacher. Your description of sitting in the great seats was perfect. The only thing that was missing was a line that read "we got so close to the stage that I expected a call from Neal Gluckman asking if he could sneak into my seats."


I LOVE your writing.... it's like being at the concert with you. Keep it up!


Thanks for another great update. I feel like I am right there with you.


Your blog is one of the best. I look forward to keeping up on concerts through your blog this summer. They definitely made a good choice when they selected you.


GREAT REVIEW!!! Billboard could not have selected a better writer and critic for concert reviews! I look forward to reading every one! Still can't figure out how to sign up though...


I have to admit, I chose to read and respond to your blogs to show support initially. But honestly I am BLOWN away. I always knew you are an amazing writer but honestly, you are GIFTED for this! Great recap. So impressed!!!!!!!!!!

Myron Simon

I never heardof Bela Fleck, but I'd love to go with you to the next concert. I don't care how far we have to travel. Your writing drives me crazy. Keep your reviews coming.

Michael R

WOW! Blown away by the review and description. While I'm not familiar with Bela Fleck this writer encouraged me to hit the ITunes and preview their work, even down loaded a few tracks. Look foward to more reviews, will have to follow this blogger thru the other concerts.


Reading the description of your night with the Flecktones actually made me want to go
to their next performance! (Quite unusual for me) Thanks for turning me on -

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