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 411mania » Music » Columns

Jam Central Station 6.28.14: Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
Posted by Jeff Modzelewski on 06.28.2014

In the jam band community, the word "diverse" gets thrown around quite a bit. Most jam bands have some level of diversity, but they still have a home base they go back to. Yonder Mountain String Band plays a variety of different bluegrass music, but they do stay within that bluegrass genre. The Dave Matthews Band absolutely sit well within the "alternative/adult contemporary rock" category, despite having a lot of things going on in their music. Most of the electronic and "livetronica" jam bands, like STS9 and The Disco Biscuits don't stray too far from that music. Even Phish has had hints of bluegrass and jazz, but, for the most part, they fall pretty strongly in the "rock" category. When it comes to diversity, one band stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones have been playing a crazy mix of funk, jazz, blues, country, pop, bluegrass, rock, for nearly 30 years. Béla been nominated for Grammy's in more categories than any other musician, having received nominations for Grammys in the categories of jazz, bluegrass, pop, contemporary Christian, gospel, classical, country, and spoken word. The band has won numerous Grammys, and have a strong following from many different musical communities. At a Flecktones show, you'll find jam band fans, jazz aficionados, bluegrass fans, and any number of music lovers from other areas. They truly cut through barriers and have gained respect across dozens of genres.

The band was formed by four musicians coming from a range of influences and areas. Béla began playing music at a young age, and got his first banjo at the age of 15. He played in a variety of projects throughout the early 80's, releasing solo albums and albums as a part of the New Grass Revival. Brothers Victor and Roy "Futureman" Wooten were raised in a musical household, with Victor picking up bass at 3 years old and the family forming the Wooten Family Band with the kids. Harmonica player and keyboardist Howard Levy was an innovator on the harmonica and is a composer who has played on over a hundred albums throughout his career.

Fleck brought together in 1988 as a one-off performance for a PBS special. It didn't take very long to understand that this was a unique blend of talent that simply couldn't be cast off. Fleck had already been recognized as possibly the premier banjo player in the world. Victor Wooten's rapid-fire slap technique was utterly unique and unlike anything heard before. Futureman held down the beat not with a drum kit but with his homemade "Drumitar," a keytar that has been modified to provide drum and percussion samples. Levy added different influences and sounds through both harmonica and piano that helped round out the band's sound. They quickly began recording and touring, and recorded their first album in 1990.

Their eponymous release was an immediate hit for the Flecktones. Fleck was already well-known among bluegrass fans, but the full band reached far beyond what Fleck was traditionally known for. The album charted on the Contemporary Jazz charts, and received rave reviews. They continued to tour, playing over 200 shows a year, and growing a diverse fanbase. Their second album, Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, reached number 1 on the contemporary jazz charts. The second album marked a change for the band, as their self-titled album was written primarily by Fleck while Cosmic Hippo was more of a full-band effort. Their third album, , continued to show their contemporary jazz chops. The band also continued to expand their instrumentation.. On their first album, they stuck pretty close to their normal instruments, but the band grew to include a variety of banjos, different bass arrangements, and different instruments for Levy to experiment with. They also started to grow their fanbase outside of the jazz genre through performances with a variety of acts, including a spot on the HORDE tour.

After UFO Tofu Levy decided to leave the band due to the strain of touring. Instead of immediately replacing him, the band recorded Three Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest, their most inclusive full-band effort to date. Fleck wrote less than half of the songs, with the Wooten brothers, especially Futureman, taking a much bigger chunk of the writing than previously. They continued to be categorized as a "jazz" act, despite moving further and further into other territory with each record. Without Levy on this album, they included guest musicians for the first time, including Bruce Hornsby on piano and Branford Marsalis on saxaphone.

The band took a break from studio recording for the next few years, but not from touring. They released their first live album, Live Art, in 1996, and also won their first Grammy award for the performance of "Sinister Minister'. They continued touring as well as recording solo and with other artists. Fleck drew more attention to the band with his performance on a number of tracks on the Dave Matthews Band album Before These Crowded Streets, exposing DMB fans to his work, and turning many DMB fans into Flecktone fans.

While the band was experiencing greater and greater success, they also wanted to expand their sound. They brought in saxophone player Jeff Coffin to the band for their next album. Left of Cool was a major departure for the Flecktones. Instead of being basically a live studio recording, Left of Cool included significant editing and layering of instruments. They brought in Dave Matthews to sing on a couple of tracks, building on a relationship that would continue for years. They also won another Grammy for the song "Almost 12," continuing to grow their popular appeal.

Their second full decade of recording proved to be just as fruitful as the first. They released Outbound in 2000, and took home another Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. They followed that up with Live at the Quick, a live album recorded in 2000. In 2003, the band released their most ambitious project to date, the 3-disc album Little Worlds The album was quite a lot for the average fan to take in, but it truly encompassed the creative nature of the Flecktones. In order to keep the album from dragging on, the band used over a dozen guests throughout the album. They also used the album as another opportunity to make inroads with the jam band community by including Derek Trucks as a guest on three tracks.

After over a decade of near-constant recording and touring, the band took 2005 off to work on other projects. The Hidden Land brought the band back to basics, with no special guests and a significantly more organic sound than Little Worlds. Not surprisingly, the album netted the band another Grammy award. More changes hit the band in 2008 when Jeff Coffin began filling in on saxophone for the Dave Matthews Band after the injury of LeRoi Moore. This took Jeff away from the Flecktones, as DMB's kept a full-time touring and recording schedule. The band still found an opportunity to put together Jingle All the Way, a mix of holiday music with a distinct Flecktones mark.

With Jeff taking on a full-time role with DMB after Moore's passing, the future of the Flecktones seemed to be up in the air. The band responded to this with a huge announcement, bringing back Howard Levy for a tour and a new album. The tour was a huge success for the band, and fans that had never had a chance to see the original lineup were thrilled to have Levy back into the fold. They released Rocket Science in 2011 as well. Unfortunately the band chose not to continue on with the Flecktones full-throttle. The group announced an indefinite hiatus in June 2012, as eavh member continues to pursue their other musical projects. While the band certainly left the door open to come back together, they made it clear that it would be at least a few years before a Flecktones reunion.

It's extremely hard to try and categorize or summarize what the Flecktones are all about. I strongly believe that they are potentially the single greatest collection of pure talent that modern music has ever seen. Both Béla Fleck and Victor Wooten are seen by their peers as possibly the most proficient masters of their respective instruments alive today. That is extremely high praise. Futureman is a true musical innovator, creating instruments to fit what he wants to do rather than tether himself to the confines of typical percussion. And both Jeff Coffin and Howard Levy are extremely well respected on their chosen instruments as well.is certainly no slouch, having recorded as a solo artist and a part of a number of bands. They've pushed the limits of jazz music far beyond typical boundaries, and they've created musical paths between genres that simply have never been cut before. Hopefully we haven't heard the last from this amazing group.

Widespread Panic to bring back Panic en la Playa
Widespread Panic confirmed their 4th Panic en la Playa event. This (next) year's event will take place at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, from January 24-28. It will feature four full Widespread Panic shows as well as other guests.

Bassnectar announces "Noise vs Beauty" tour
Bassnectar will be heading on the road to support his new album Noise vs Beauty. This tour will include his Bass Center event at Madison Square Garden on October 4.

October 3 Rochester, NY—The Main Street Armory
October 4 New York, NY—Madison Square Garden
October 8 Portland, ME—State Theatre
October 9 Burlington, VT—Memorial Auditorium
October 10 Wallingford, CT—The Oakdale Theatre
October 11 Lowell, MA—Tsongas Arena
October 15 Pittsburgh, PA—Stage AE
October 16 Columbus, OH—Lifestyle Communities Pavilion
October 17 Cleveland, OH—Agora Theater
October 18 Greensboro, NC—Greesboro Coliseum
October 23 Baton Rouge, LA—Baton Rouge River Center
October 24 Austin, TX—Austin Music Hall
October 28 St. Louis, MO—The Pageant
October 30 Kansas City, MO—The Midland
November 5 Las Vegas, NV—Brooklyn Bowl
November 6 Lake Tahoe, NV—MonBleu Resort Showroom
November 7 Sacramento, CA—Sacramento Memorial Auditorium
November 8 San Francisco, CA—Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

Greensky Bluegrass announce tour
Greensky Bluegrass announced their fall tour. They will be supporting their upcoming album If Sorrows Swim, set to be released on September 9.

September 10 Buffalo, NY—Town Ballroom
September 11 Boston, MA—Paradise Rock Club
September 12 Burlington, VT—Higher Ground
September 13 New York, New York—Gramercy Theater
September 16 Louisville, KY—Headliner's
September 17 Nashville, TN—Americana Festival
September 18 Charlottesville, VA—The Jefferson
September 19 Baltimore, MD—Ram's Head Live
September 20 Philadelphia, PA—TLA
September 23 Pittsburgh, PA—Rex Theater
September 24 Winston-Salem, NC—Ziggy's
September 25 Charlotte, NC—Visulite Theater
September 26 Asheville, NC—Orange Peel
September 27 Atlanta, GA—Variety Playhouse
September 30 Jackson, MS—Duling Hall
October 1 Memphis, TN—Minglewood Hall
October 2 St. Louis, MO—Old Rock House
October 3 Indianapolis, IN—The Vogue
October 22 De Moines, IA—Wooly's
October 23 Lawrence, KS—Bottleneck
October 24-25 TBA
October 27 Aspen, CO—Belly Up
October 28 Santa Fe, NM—Sol
October 29 Flagstaff, AZ—Orpheum Theater
October 31 Live Oak, FL—Hulaween Festival
November 1-2 Las Vegas, NV—Brooklyn Bowl
November 5 Salt Lake City, UT—The Depot
November 6 Missoula, MT—Top Hat
November 7-8 Portland, OR—Wonder Ballroom
November 9 Seattle, WA—Neptune Theater
November 12 Solana Beach, CA—Belly Up Tavern
November 13 W. Hollywood, CA—Troubadour

Electric Forest
June 26-29, 2014
The Double JJ Ranch & Resort
Rothbury, MI
Performers include: The String Cheese Incident (3 nights), STS9 (2 nights), Ms. Lauryn Hill, Stephen Marley, EOTO, Anders Osborne, The Revivalists, Nahko & Medicine for the People, Rising Apalachia, Zedd, and many others.

High Sierra
July 3-6, 2014
Quincy, CA
Performers include: Widespread Panic, STS9, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Beats Antique, Trampled by Turtles, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, and many more to be announced

July 17-20, 2014
Sunshine Daydream Memorial Park
Terra Alta, WV
Performers include: Shpongle, Beats Antique, EOTO, Conspirator, Zilla, vibesquad, Janover 7 Resunator, Cosby Sweater, Aliver Hall, Broccoli Samurai, and many others.

Northwest String Summit
July 17-21, 2014
Horning's Hideout
North Plains, OR
Performers include: Yonder Mountain String Band, The Motet, Steep Canyon Rangers, Fruition, Dead Winter Carpenters, The Rumpke Mountain Boys, and many others

July 18-20, 2014
Waterfront Park
Louisville, KY
Performers include: Outkast, Jack White, Beck, The Replacements, Ray Lamontagne, Band of Horses, Nickel Creek, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Gary Clark Jr., Trampled by Turtles, JJ Grey & Mofro, and many others

July 23-27, 2014
Floyd, VA
Performers include: Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Ms. Lauryn Hill, ray LaMontagne, Thievery Corporation, Ziggy Marley, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, and many others

Gratifly Festival
July 24-27
Westminster, SC
Performers include: Papadosio, Opilio, Gratifly Symphony, Earphunk, Earthcry, The Human Experience, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and many others.

Gathering of the Vibes
July 31-August 1, 2014
Seaside Park
Bridgeport, CT
Performers include: Widespread Panic, John Fogerty, moe., Umphrey's McGee, The Disco Biscuits featuring Mickey Hart & Bill Kreutzmann, Ziggy Marley, Dumpstaphunk, and many others.

August 1-3, 2014
Grant Park
Chicago, IL
Performers include: Eminem, Outkast, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, White Denim, Broken Bells, Lorde, The Avett Brothers, Forster the People, The Head & The Heart, Trombone Shorty, Chromeo, and many others.

Werk Out Festival
August 7-9, 2014
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH
Performers include: The Werks (3 nights), Papadosio (2 nights), Emancipator, Future Rock Zoogma, Dopapod, Zach Deputy, and many others.

Outside Lands
August 8-10, 2014
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA
Performers include: Kanye West, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Killers, The Flaming Lips, Spoon, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Chromeo, John butler Trio, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, and many others

Arise Music Festival
August 8-10, 2014
Sunrise Ranch
Loveland, CO
Performers include: Galactic, Grateful Grass, Nahko & Medicine for the People, and many others

Peach Music Festival
August 14-17, 2014
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
Performers include: Allman Brothers Band (2 nights), Bob Weir & RatDog, Trey Anastasio Band, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Lotus, JJ Grey & Mofro, The Revivalists, Dopapod, The Infamous Stringdusters, papadosio, and others.

August 15-17, 2014
Wellston, MI
Performers include: Greensky Bluegrass, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Steppin' In It, The Ragbirds, and many others.

Summer Set Music & Camping Festival
August 15-17
Somerset, Wi
Performers include: Bassnectar, Umphrey's McGee, Kaskade, Disco Biscuits, Wu-Tang Clan, Big Gigantic, Chromeo, Cherub, and many others

Camp Barefoot
August 21-23, 2014
Bartow, WV
Performers include: Beats Antique, Papadosio, Lettuce, Kyle Hollingsworth Band performing a tribute to Motown, Dopapod, Kung Fu, The Motet, Zach Deputy, and many others.

August 29-31, 2014
Snow Ridge Ski Resort
Turin, NY
Performers include: moe. (3 headlining nights), Lotus, O.A.R. Les Claypool's Duo de Twang, Soulive, Twiddle, Aqueous, and others.

North Coast Music Festival
August 29-31, 2014
Union Park
Chicago, IL
Performers include: Bassnectar, Kid cudi, STS9, Snoop Dogg, Dada Life, Zeds Dead, Dr. Dog, The New Deal, and many others.

Lockin' Music Festival
September 4-7, 2014
Arrington, VA
Performers include: Furthur, The String Cheese Incident, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers,The Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh & Friends, Widespread Panic, Umphrey's McGee, Wilco, Bob Weir & Ratdog, and many others.

Phases of the Moon Festival
September 11-14, 2014
Kennekuk County Park, IL
Performers include: Widespread Panic (2 nights), Tedeschi Trucks Band, Gov't Mule, Galactic, Leftover Salmon, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and many others.

Catskill Chill
September 5-7, 2014
Camp Minglewood
Hancock, NY
Performers include: Yonder Mountain String Band with Allie Kral, Lettuce, Shpongle, Karl denson's Tiny Universe, Papadosio, Dopapod, Particle, The Heavy Pets, and many others.

Grand Point North Festival
September 13-14, 2014
Waterfront Park
Burlington, VT
Performers include: Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (headlining both nights), Lake Street Dive, Trampled by Turtles, The Devil Makes Three, Dr. John, Caroline Rose, and many others.

Harvest Music Festival
October 16-18, 2014
Mulberry Mountain
Ozark, AR
Performers include: Yonder Mountain String Band with Jerry Douglas, Trampled By Turtles, Railroad Earth, Lettuce, The Devil Makes Three, Dumpstaphunk, Elephant Revival, Cornmeal, and many others

Hangtown Halloween Ball
October 24-26, 2014
Placerville, CA
Performers include: Railroad Earth (3 nights), The Meter Men, Leftover Salmon, The Jeff Austin Band, The motet, and many others

Suwannee Hulaween
October 31-November 2, 2014
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
Performers include: String Cheese Incident (3 nights), Thievery Corp., Big Gigantic, Beats Antique, EOTO, Greensky Bluegrass, and many others

Bear Creek Music & Art Festival
November 13-16, 2014
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
Performers include: Umphrey's McGee, Lettuce, Dumpstaphunk, The New Mastersounds, Break Science, Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, Turkuaz, The Main Squeeze, Tauk, and many others

Strings & Sol
December 11-15, 2014
Puerto Morales, Mexico
Performers include: Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, and Greensky Bluegrass

Jam Cruise
January 6-11, 2015
Departs from Miami, FL

Tropical Throe.down
January 9-13, 2015
Grand Lido Resort
Negril, Jamaica
Performers include: moe., Floodwood, Conehead Buddha Horns, and Ha Ha The Moose.

Island Exodus
January 14-18, 2015
Grand Lido Negril
Negril, Jamaica
Gov't Mule will host the event

Panic en la Playa Cuatro
January 24-28, 2014
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Widespread Panic will host this event

One Big Holiday
January 31-February 4, 2015
Hard Rock Hotel
Riviera Maya, Mexico
My Morning Jacket will host the event

Thanks again for stopping by. I'll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!


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