The birthday boy knew he was going to a show tonight. He didn’t know how many others would be there. Sure he knew the rest of the audience would be there but when he got to the door of the state theater in downtown Portland, a group of friends, including your humble narrator, were waiting. I may have spoiled it slightly.
I got to town early and as I was about to enter a coffee shop I noticed said birthday boy’s wife sitting in said coffee shop. I froze like a critter in headlights. That’s when I saw the back of birthday boys head. The wife is a smart one and sat facing the window just in case this very situation arose. I smiled and as she slowly realized who was staring at her, I started dancing around till she laughed. Just as birthday boy started to turn I dove out of view. I hoped she would come up with a good cover. He was suspicious but luckily the surprise was minutes away. That takes us to the entrance of the state theater one block away.
The only time I’ve seen Bela Fleck with the Flecktones was at this theater almost 20 years ago. Tonight he was playing with his wife Abigail Washburn. Just the two of them on stage with a array of banjos and it was terrific. They played together, they played solo, and they had great banter, and even hosted a contest. Towards the end of the first set they announced that profit from merch tonight would all go to the Center For Grieving Children. The CDs and Lps had raffle tickets taped to them and at the end of the show, one lucky winner would go home with a banjo ukulele. People started to get up right away.
Last year this power couple won the grammy for best bluegrass album. I had no idea. This tour was in support of their follow-up album. I had no idea. I bought tickets for this show as part of the surprise weekend and all I knew was Bela Fleck. Aside from seeing him in this theater years ago, he came on stage briefly during a very odd lineup at Giant’s Stadium. That was an interesting story but all I can say is I went expecting Santana and got them plus the Roots and Dave Mathews. Just as I was about to leave (early into the Dave set) Bela Fleck came out and it was great. Throughout tonight’s intimate show, Bela and Abigail explained their different styles and expounded on the diversity of the instrument from its African origins through its Apalatian renaissance. Fun fact, Bela Fleck has been nominated in more categories than any other instumentalist in Grammy history. He has 15 and has been nominated 30 times.
The crowd was seated throughout and aside from minimal cell phone interruption and beer runs, they were quiet and attentive. The first song ended with thunderous applause that highlighted just how invested they were. The cheers were earned as well. Each song was a flawless and intricate flourish of picking. As with most banjo, it is tough to believe that many notes come from one instrument. Two banjos at once coupled with her singing filled the room despite the sparse stage and seated audience.
The birthday boy was all smiles and he had no idea what was still in store for the weekend. He knew he was staying in town and was excited we’d be joining him but he thought he was leaving they next day. There was a full party and another show to come! This was an excellent start to the weekend and I left with the LP but sadly no banjo ukulele.0 likes