As a weekend worker (I'm a mobile DJ....OK, mostly a wedding DJ), one of my favorite things to do is spot a great Sunday night concert to attend. If that show happens to take place at our Ntelos Pavilion here in Charlottesville. a mere 15 minute drive with maybe 5 minutes to park, all it takes is a good artist and some decent weather and I've got the recipe for a cool Sunday evening.
Last Sunday night, August 7th, was one of those occasions where it all worked out. After lower temperatures from Saturday on did not break the stranglehold of the unbelievable humidity, a very late afternoon thunderstorm finally cooled the air enough to make it outdoor show friendly, I piled myself in the car and headed to downtown Charlottesville, grabbing a ticket and some liquid refreshment just in time to see Bela Fleck take the stage.
Let's be honest, in my line of work, Bela's music is normally cocktail music. While I own several CDs of his music,specific songs often elude me, but I know enough to know good when I hear it. After the opening songs, Bela introduced his amazing bassist, Victor Wooten, who proceeded to create WOW moment number one with a 3 minute piece of funk played solo on his bass that sounded at times like an orchestra of basses. WOW moment number two followed immediately when Bela and his group launched into a long and improvisational version of one of Bela's biggest tunes, Big Country. Here's where the pacing of Bela's set fell apart just a little as the group settled into a groove, but that groove was actually a little more meditative than show friendly. Great stuff, though, and what the group lacked in showmanship was more than made up for by excellent musicianship. Once Bruce Hornsby showed up on stage with his accordion, they once again picked up the beat and finished their excellent set on the upswing.
Thanks to having so many interchangeable musicians (every member of both bands played in the finale), the break between Bela and Bruce was only 15 minutes.
Hornsby and the Noisemakers hit the stage around 8:50 and played until around 10:40, including the encore. This was my third time seeing Bruce, once being with Ricky Skaggs on their brief tour to support the CD they released together in 2007. Arrangements from that tour showed up in many of the Hornsby standards, including the version of Mandolin Rain shown above and a rollicking bluegrass tinged version of his biggest hit, The Way It Is.
Alternating between piano and accordion, Bruce performed all the hits and near misses, including a personal favorite called Big Stick from the Tin Cup soundtrack in the late 90s. The bluegrass flavor added by Fleck took virtually every tune to a new level with the exception of Rainbow's Cadillac, which is so perfect it needs no other level. Like Bela, Hornsby is more of a musician than a showman, but the pacing of his set kept the beat well within range.
What sets a Hornsby show apart, though, is the same thing that sets a recording apart, it's the Keith Jarrett like piano fills that add classic jazz to the already potent mix of Rock, Bluegrass, and straight up Americana. Bruce is one of those musicians who delivers every single time and every time I've seen him the musicianship resonates well beyond the end of the show.
For the finale, all the wonderful musicians from both bands hit the stage, eventually ending up interpolating Weather Report's Birdland into a jazzy rock finish that left everyone smiling!
I suppose I should also point out that while none of these videos here are from the show I saw Sunday, the consistency of the performances on this tour is obvious. Catch this show this summer and your hard earned concert dollars can be considered well spent.