Banjo Music for the Soul
Béla Fleck - Tony Trischka
Old Town School / Chicago Folk Center - Chicago, IL
May 15, 1999 - Early Show
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 1999, Volume 6, #7
Written by John Metzger
Most folks' idea of an entertaining night on the town is probably pretty far removed from an evening of banjo music. Just the thought of seeing a pair of banjo players in concert is far more likely to bring to mind the theme of Dueling Banjos rather than a stirring musical experience. Of course, most people haven't seen Béla Fleck and Tony Trischka.
On May 15, the duo paid a visit to the Old Town School's intimate Chicago Folk Center for a pair of concerts in front of capacity crowds. At the early performance, Fleck and Trischka succeeded in taking the banjo to new and exciting realms, while delivering a delightful blend of bluegrass, classical, jazz, and pop music.
Despite the fact that Trischka was an early mentor of Fleck, the duo approached this show as musical peers, alternating between each other's various recordings. They shared the stage for most of the evening and turned their songs, as well as a handful of cover tunes, into adventurous duets filled with technical genius, sterling improvisation, and unabashed emotion. Trischka's Assunta was a beautiful and magnificent opus dedicated to his wife, and on Dave Brubeck's Take Five, Fleck and Trischka teamed up for a brilliant exploration of this jazz classic.
Both musicians also performed several solo selections, with Trischka paying tribute to the venue with a medley of Elizabeth Cotton's Freight Train and Pete Seeger's Goofing Off Suite. In turn, Fleck delivered a jaw-dropping Katmandu, on which he performed the entire song utilizing the tuning pegs instead of the neck of the banjo to play the notes. In addition, Fleck made use of a sitar bridge fitted for his banjo on a mesmerizing song that blended bluegrass with Eastern music.
Fleck and Trischka gave the evening a light-hearted mood, interacting with the audience to garner sound effects for Bullfrog Shuffle and turning a medley of nine Beatles compositions into a sing-along. In addition, they opened a series of envelopes throughout the evening, which asked popular culture trivia questions. The first letters of the answers were written on a chalkboard. At the end of the evening, the final envelope was opened, and the note read, "the clues go forward, but the notes go backward." The result was the familiar strain of Dueling Banjos.
The pair returned for an encore, and as Trischka stood behind Fleck, they proceeded to launch into a duet on one banjo. It was this kind of twisted humor that Fleck and Trischka shared and utilized to their advantage in engaging the audience. This left them with plenty of opportunity to display their unique and extraordinary talents, creating music for the heart, mind, and soul and pushing the banjo far beyond its usual reputation.
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