Bela Fleck specializes in putting his banjo-playing into unusual situations, alongside everything from African ensembles to symphony orchestras.
But this fall will find him in more of a traditional setting. The International Bluegrass Music Association has announced Fleck as keynote speaker for its 2014 convention, Sept. 30-Oct. 4 in Raleigh.
“Bluegrass is like the hometown for someone like Bela,” said IBMA Executive Director Nancy Cardwell. “Everyone likes to go home to visit and is proud of where they’re from. Bluegrass is sort of where Bela is from, and we’re happy to have him back anytime he wants to be there.”
Fleck was at IBMA’s Raleigh convention last year, too, performing with the North Carolina Symphony as well as on the “Epic Collaboration.” He’ll also play this year’s all-star show, billed as “Wide Open Jam,” with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and other top guns.
But Fleck’s most high-profile slot this year will be the keynote speech to kick off the IBMA’s business convention on Sept. 30.
He follows last year’s keynote speaker, Noam Pikelny of Punch Brothers – another banjo player known for wide-ranging influences well beyond bluegrass.
“We look for something motivational and thought-provoking from the keynote,” Cardwell said. “Some new development or important issue – maybe historical, maybe humorous. Something to get us all talking and thinking. We do seem to ask a lot of banjo players to do it. They’d probably say it’s because they’re a little smarter than everyone else.”
In other IBMA news of a classically slanted nature, Wilkesboro trio Kruger Brothers will debut a new composition on Oct. 4 during this year’s conference. Titled “Lucid Dreamer,” it’s a concerto commissioned by Kontras Quartet (a Chicago-based group that will accompany the piece).
“Lucid Dreamer” follows a number of other classically oriented projects by the Kruger Brothers, including 2011’s “Appalachian Concerto” and 2013’s “Spirit of the Rockies.” Group leader Jens Kruger, reigning winner of the prestigious Steve Martin Prize for bluegrass banjo, describes “Lucid Dreamer” as a musical manifestation of being in a “controlled dream state.”
“Musicians like Bela Fleck and Jens Kruger, there’s no wall between what they think and what they play,” said Cardwell. “Most of us have to struggle to get what’s inside our head to the strings, to the air, to the audience. They’re so incredibly accomplished, there’s no lag time between creative thought and having it pop out.”
For details about this year’s World of Bluegrass, see ibma.org.