Part of the appeal of catching a Bruce Hornsby show is that you never know what the laid-back singer-songwriter will do when he hits the stage. During a performance in Philadelphia in 2012, Hornsby kept the audience on its toes by delivering a varied, unpredictable set, alternating between pop hits and soft piano instrumentals.
“That’s how I’m most comfortable,” Hornsby said while calling from York, Pa. “I write and perform what moves me. I’ve pushed my music into new areas and sometimes I’ve left certain audience members behind, but I can’t be bothered worrying about that. I’m a different person than I was when I was 26.”
Hornsby enjoyed considerable commercial success during the 1980s, thanks to hit singles such as “The Way It Is,” “Mandolin Rain” and “Valley Road.”
When Hornsby performs with the Noisemakers Saturday at the N.C. Museum of Art, he might play those songs, but hits aren’t guaranteed spots in his set list.
And there are some tracks that Hornsby simply won’t deliver, such as the minor hit “Every Little Kiss,” which was co-written at the dawn of his career with younger brother John Hornsby.
“That song just didn’t age well,” he said. “I’m not a sentimental guy and I’m not holding on to everything. You won’t hear that song when I come in.”
Hornsby is one of those special performers who has his own agenda. The adventurous 58-year-old piano virtuoso delivers rock, classical, country, jazz and pop without blinking an eye.
“It feels more natural that way,” Hornsby said.
Hornsby also currently records and tours with Ricky Skaggs and performed with the Grateful Dead in the late ’80s through the mid-’90s.
“There’s no one like Bruce,” the Dead’s Bob Weir said. “He is incredibly gifted and he’s willing to take chances. That’s a great combination.”
Hornsby’s latest step out of the box was crafting the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s 2012 film ‘‘Red Hook Summer.” Hornsby’s solo piano instrumentals in the film are subtle and beautiful, perfectly complementing Lee’s work.
“I love what Spike does,” said Hornsby. “He’s another guy who does what moves him. We certainly have that in common. He doesn’t do what is expected. I’ve never been someone that does what is expected. I like challenging myself and doing what feels right. I’m just glad that I focused on music. My brothers and I played piano but we were just like other kids. We would rather have been playing baseball and basketball than practicing scales.”
But Hornsby stayed with the piano, which he started playing by ear as a teen.
“I loved listening to those early Elton John and Leon Russell records,” Hornsby said. “They moved me.”
Hornsby’s commitment to the piano earned him a degree in Jazz and Studio Music from the University of Miami.
“My education helped shape me,” Hornsby said. “I was exposed to a great deal in school and I still draw from that. It’s been great. I’m looking forward to the future. I’m always looking forward to what’s next.”