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Posted August 7, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

Béla Fleck to 'mix it up' for Shenandoah crowd at music festi

By Elizabeth Wilkerson -- ewilkerson@nvdaily.com

Béla Fleck
Béla Fleck, a world-renowned banjo player, will perform at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival tonight. Courtesy photo

ORKNEY SPRINGS -- Though the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival returns each summer, tonight's performance by Béla Fleck and Toumani Diabaté could be called a once-in-a-lifetime event.

"[Fleck] never does the same concert twice," festival Executive Director Dennis Lynch said Thursday. "Béla always knows how to mix it up and keep folks happy."

Fleck, a world-renowned banjo player, and Diabaté, a Grammy-nominated kora player, will take the stage in Orkney Springs at 8 p.m. Gates open at 6 p.m.

"I've been trying to get [Fleck] here in some iteration for a number of years now, because he's right up our alley," Lynch said. "He leans acoustic ... and he's so incredibly versatile."

Tonight's show will be "unlike anything so far this summer," he said.

"Whenever he picks up the banjo, it's like flipping a switch," Lynch said. "That alone imparts a tone of energy to the atmosphere."

Fleck picked up the banjo at age 15 and released his first solo album in 1980, according to information from the Rounder Records Group. He joined New Grass Revival, a progressive bluegrass band, in 1982, and formed the "genre-busting" Flecktones in 1989.

The banjo virtuoso's current project is "fascinating," Lynch said. Fleck started tracing the roots of his instrument to Africa, Lynch said, and he met and played with a variety of musicians along the way.

His latest album, "Throw Down Your Heart," is the third in his "Tales From the Acoustic Planet" series, according to the Rounder Records Group, and features on-location collaborations with musicians from Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal, Mali, South Africa and Madagascar.

Fleck is "an absolute lion in the music business," and has been nominated for Grammys in more categories than any other musician and won several of the awards, Lynch said. And Mali's Diabaté, who's one of the musicians Fleck collaborated with in Africa, "is no slouch, either," he said.

"This guy is like a huge superstar in his native land," Lynch said.

Diabaté, who's new recording, "The Mande Variations," was nominated for a Grammy, is considered by many to be the world's greatest kora player, the festival's Web site says. The kora is a harp-like stringed instrument unique to West Africa, it says.

Tonight's performance is the fifth of the festival's eight shows, Lynch said, and the concert series will wind down Labor Day weekend with performances by Travis Tritt and Jerry Douglas on Sept. 5 and the Cherryholmes on Sept. 6.

Though sponsorship is "a little down this year, kind of like every other festival," individual contributions are "running about neck and neck" with last year, he said.

"You know, rain is always a bigger enemy for us than the economy," Lynch said, and it's rained on three of the four concert days so far. It's "a great concert experience, even when it rains," he said, but attendees should come prepared.

"The weather forecast for Friday is absolutely gorgeous, but I'm still knocking wood, just in case," he said.

For tickets or more information, call 459-3396 or visit the Web at www.musicfest.org.

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