The Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles is decorated with ornate trimmings that look like stalactites and stalagmite protruding from a cave; but it was easy to forget the unusual decor when Béla Fleck and his friends stepped onto the stage Friday night and began to play.
Fleck was joined in concert by Sam Bush (mandolin and fiddle), Jerry Douglas (lap steel guitar), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Edgar Meyer (bass), and Bryan Sutton (guitar). This group has for years been the house band at the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival and recently collaborated on Fleck's excellent album "My Bluegrass Heart", from which the band drew over half of this evening's songs.
It was a joy to watch and hear six outstanding musicians who played so well together. Sutton especially stood out with his amazing fingerwork and his velvet-smooth vocals; Meyer was creative in his playing, alternating with and without a bow; and Bush projects a joy in playing music as a little boy projects the joys of Christmas morning presents. Although he is one of the world's great banjo players, Béla Fleck was content to step back and let the spotlight shine on his bandmates and their solos.
I first began following Fleck during his days with the New Grass Revival in the 1970s and 1980s, but this was the first time I experienced him in concert. Sam Bush, who appeared onstage Saturday with Fleck, was also a part of TNGR. I saw him perform in northern Kentucky almost 20 years ago and was surprised how little he had aged in the years between.
Most of the evening's songs were written by Fleck, but they graced us with a few well-done covers, including John Hartford's "Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie", Bill Monroe's "White House Blues", and Gordon Lightfoot's "Cold on the Shoulder" (although the latter was sung and played with a bluegrass arrangement as a tribute to Tony Rice, who passed away a year ago).
The band's 2 sets totaled more than 2 hours, even before they returned for an encore, which began with the New Grass Revival Song "When the Storm is Over".
It was a remarkable evening of musicianship.