On a strange and tragic day, a thousand miles away from the terror that besieged NYC and Washington D.C., in a little middle American college town, Iowa City played host to a show that will be remembered by all present. The venue, ironically, the University of Iowa’s Memorial Union Main Lounge, filled slowly as many likely contemplated even attending a show on such a morose day, a day in which Air Force One visibly flew over our heads.

But those who came down were rewarded with almost three hours of song, dance, virtuosity, and inspiration.

The band members, haling from New York, surely a little apprehensive and distanced themselves about the day’s events, took the stage quietly and got down to it right away opening up with some new material. After two new upbeat tunes, Bela brought the already quiet room to complete silence. He read some announcements and encouraged everyone who could, to donate blood and continued reading off some local blood drive information.

The announcements were followed by a moment of silence for the victims and for the families and for the rescue teams.

The show went on to be an amazing performance. It was reasonably the best damn live music I’ve heard Bela, Vic, Future Man, Jeff perform or any other band for that matter in a long, long time despite the IMU Main Lounge’s shaky acoustics

The show had it all. There was the tune selection, which was quite literally a current roster of the band greatest hits, the solos, the jams, and surprises. The harmony produced by the tight interactions between the four band members sounded like an improvised jazzgrass symphony. And of course, there was showmanship too.

Victor Lemont Wooten’s playing was sounding like a waterfall flowing. The barrage of slap, tap, pull off, tap and slide-up and down- was so smooth it looked easy. The first solo was Vic’s and he set the tone that brought tears to the eye. He worked “Amazing Grace” with a whole new, immediate meaning and the crowd just stood in awe of the beauty of the slightly tapped harmonics in light of the destruction witnessed earlier in the day. Coming out of his aggressive birthday solo, a gentle “Norwegian Wood” lulled his hooting admirers and astonished newcomers.

The crowd later sang a giant group “Happy Birthday to Victor”.

The group jammed hard out of “Stomping Ground” into a plethora of eclectic melodies and songs, a bag full of tricks that included the surf crazed “Wipeout”, “Theme to the Pink Panther”, and variations on Wizard of Oz themes, which was somewhat reminiscent of 2.14.00 at Madison’s Barrymore Theater.

Future Man turned out some lyrics to “Sunset Road”. I hadn’t heard him sing them before. They were interesting to hear for the first time but to me, they seemed to take on fresh meaning on this night as Future Man sang “I stand alone…”. During his combination of new percussive instruments with a worldy drum space beat groove, Future Man’s sounds rolled across the room creating a unique feeling. Futch tapped into something both heavy and ethereal during his solo. It was rhythmic and reflective.

On “Two Horny Blues”, Jeff just ripped. Dually saxes and all, He busted out hard air rocking the place with everything he had into a song that sounds like a slow sad bluesman’s challenge.

The night closed down with the lights turned down. It was just the man and his banjo.

Bela thanked the crowd and admitted the reservations the band had about playing after such a devastating day but was (and I’m paraphrasing) happy and thankful they went on. Bela’s solo, like the show itself, had a little of everything. In what order, I’m not sure anymore but the beauty if you can imagine in a slow and steady pickin’ and hammerin’ worked through the Peanuts’ theme-“Linus and Lucy”, “Star Spangled Banner”, “Happy Birthday”, and ended in the quiet solitude of some classical stylings.

Bela Fleck & The Flecktones Tour Dates

Tim McConville

[Published on: 9/18/01]

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