Acoustic Planet Tour :: 08.12.04 :: Aragon Ballroom :: Chicago, IL

With a lineup of Yonder Mountain String Band, Keller Williams, and Bela Fleck and The Flecktones, the Acoustic Planet Tour showcases three generations of incredible string players in one epic performance. All who descended upon Chicago's historic Aragon Ballroom and were herded through the two-block security line probably would say it was a small price to pay for the musical treat we were given.

Yonder Mountain String Band
with Keller Williams (left) and Bela Fleck (right)
First up was Yonder Mountain String Band, with special guests popping in and out the whole set. That was also part of the genius of doing a show like this: everyone played with everyone else, and you had to pay attention to the constantly changing lineup. One minute Jeff Austin, mandolin player for Yonder, was tearing through a mandolin solo; the next minute the band was off stage while Jeff and Keller Williams dueled it out guitar vs. mandolin. Eventually Jeff took his bow, and with no break, Keller continued on his merry way.

Keller Williams
with Victor Wooten (left) and Bela Fleck (right)
When Keller got full throttle into his set, it was a sonic assault--he was jumping from guitar to guitar and looping them all along the way. Whether he was covering Sublime's "What I Got" or looping Victor Wooten's (of the Flecktones) over-the-top bass hooks, he consistently brought a smile to your face and put a hop in your step. He started a number of songs as a human beatbox, then built up the sound to hallucinatory proportions. Keller's version of the oldtime favorite "Candyman" was another showstopper, pushing the audience even deeper into the woven guitar loops. Enter FutureMan, the Flecktones' percussionist, who added an intricate tribal element to the end of Keller's set. Keller pounded on a djembe while The Flecktones all re-appeared one by one. Out comes Bela Fleck, topping off the sound with his unbelievable command of the banjo. Keller waved goodbye to a crowd still trying to figure out what they were just hit with, and left to an uproar only rivaled by the round of applause when the show ended. Still no set break.

Bela Fleck (left) Victor Wooten and Ben Kaufman of YMSB (right)
It doesn't really matter if you liked, or knew of, Bela Fleck if you were at The Aragon that night. However, what everybody knew leaving was how amazing Bela Fleck is, and the unending well of energy that is The Flecktones. Victor Wooten seemed to be the glue holding it all together, even though at any moment it would intentionally fall apart and re-assemble itself in an entirely different groove. Back and forth they toyed with the audience, and kept everyone stomping in the already too-hot room. Let me also say, even if your one of those freaks who claims to not be able to appreciate the banjo, you'll still enjoy Bela Fleck. At the very least he is the exception and not the rule, and he is well on his way to surpassing his already legendary status. Also worth mentioning was Bela dazzling and teasing the audience in an out of famous banjo riffs, and taking the Flecktones into a great cover of "Wipeout." My favorite part of his set was the sudden drop that picked right up into Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Not only does this protest song fit the times, but to hear Bela play it with Jeff Coffin bouncing between pan flute, oboe, and saxophone was an imaginative treat. Still no set break.

Jeff Austin (left) Keller Williams (right)
One by one, Jeff Austin and a few from his band, along with Keller, joined the Flecktones to push the show completely over the top. Everyone was onstage at the end of the night, playing "Reach" and "Come Together," putting an exclamation point on an already well-received performance. The end of the show was the first time the music stopped all night--four full hours of uninterrupted music.

Acoustic Planet Tour :: 08.12.04 :: Aragon Ballroom :: Chicago, IL
The Acoustic Planet Tour is a must see. With all the diversity; ranging from age and style to song selection and stage presence, it was a great feat that they were able to compliment each other musically at every turn over this four hour marathon. For something called The Acoustic Planet Tour, it was as high-energy as anyone could predict, and then some. A great crowd, a beautiful venue, and an all-star lineup, this show had something for everyone.

Words by: John Petit
Images by: Adam George
JamBase | Chicago
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[Published on: 8/30/04]

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