Béla Fleck in the Blue Ridge
One from the archives. Ahead of his 2018 residency at the Brevard Music Center, I interviewed Béla Fleck. Here’s the conversation.
A 16-time Grammy Award winner, Béla Fleck is the best-known banjo player living today. Though he often works in bluegrass, Fleck’s muse has taken him into jazz, folk, classical and world music styles. In August, the acclaimed musician will host the first-ever Blue Ridge Banjo Camp in Brevard; designed for intermediate to advanced players, the camp will feature several days of workshops and training.
How did the Blue Ridge Banjo Camp get started, and how did you become involved?
I had been thinking for a long time about education becoming a bigger part of what I do. I love the community of banjo players, and I wanted to spend more time interfacing with that world. And then Out of nowhere, I was approached by Woody Platt, who I knew from the Steep Canyon Rangers. He had an idea of putting on a banjo camp in Brevard, where the classical camp has been for many years.
So the timing is perfect! I had been waiting for the right situation to present itself, and here it is. I get to curate and create a place where the important things can be taught, not only by myself but by a crack team of great banjo players with varying specialties.
The Camp is going to focus on three distinct styles of banjo playing. What are those?
Scruggs style is what you imagine when you think of The Beverly Hillbillies or “Dueling Banjos.” It’s that rippling, organic sound. If you think about what a guitar player with a flat pick in his hand might sound like if he started riffing on a banjo for fun, that’s Single-string style, but we create that sort of sound using our fingers, not a flat pick. Melodic style uses that same rippling sound, but applies it to scales, arpeggios and fun licks. It brings variety and a certain type of complexity to the Scruggs sound while still keeping that rippling effect.
Is this a one-off event, or is there a long-term vision for the Blue Ridge Banjo Camp?
The hope is that this will become an annual event. With any new project, the first time is the most stressful and complex, but once we’ve actually done it I imagine we will know exactly what needs to be adjusted and tweaked.
What makes Brevard and Western N.C. the ideal setting for this event?
Let’s start with Earl Scruggs being from North Carolina. None of us three-finger players would be doing what we are doing without him. I’m glad to be able to present a camp in a place where high-end classical and jazz camps have been going on for a long time. These facilities are excellent, and the staff knows how to do a classy presentation. The three-finger banjo style deserves respect as a great American art form; there is nothing like it anywhere in the world. I’d love to see it elevated in people’s perception. This is working out to be a dream situation for a camp; I have high hopes!
The camp culminates in a concert. What will that be like?
I’m working on the particulars, but it will feature music from all of the amazing banjo players that are there to teach. I will also do a significant solo set, and play some pieces with the other teachers. I also plan to have the entire school involved on part of it; 100 banjo players on stage should be pretty crazy!