Closing out a jam-packed string of sold-out amphitheater shows, the banjoist — along with Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush — brought his ‘Bluegrass Happening’ to Grand Rapids on Monday. Review, photos.
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO GALLERY AND BELA FLECK’S SET LIST
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It was a picture-perfect evening for a “Bluegrass Happening”
Monday’s sold-out Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park concert packed with three headlining-worthy acts served as a knee-slapping kick-off to the week, especially for those ready to get out of their seats and dance.
As renowned guitarist Jerry Douglas so aptly put it as part of his band’s early opening set: “You’ve got a whole lot of bluegrass coming at you tonight.”
Indeed. For his part, Douglas and his crew shared a story about writing a song with 25 notes in the first measure alone with good-natured quips about the band not getting along so far on the tour. The band itself brought a number of high-energy tunes while trading solos back and forth before handing the stage over to the night’s second act.
Wasting no time, Sam Bush and his band rushed to the stage to keep the high-energy night rolling along. While things started soft and slow, Bush soon unleashed his trademark mandolin shredding, leading up to four simple hi-hat hits that really launched the band’s set.
During the set, Bush — who last regaled a Grand Rapids crowd last October at St. Cecilia Music Center — shared the tales behind his songs, including his ode to friends and loving one another
It was a tune that seemed to put the crowd in a trance just before hitting them hard with Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” which found many dancing, singing and clapping along.
The whole night largely felt like a huge family reunion at a folk festival’s main stage.
“We’ve been waiting to do something like this for years,” Bush acknowledged. “It’s so great we can finally do this with all of you.”
SEAMLESS TRADING OF SOLOS, IMPRESSIVE POLYRHYTHMIC RUNS
A quick set change gave people just enough time to breathe before Bela Fleck and his six-piece ensemble, My Bluegrass Heart, stormed the stage to match the energy of Bush, Douglas and their respective bands. (Fleck released his Grammy-winning, star-studded studio album, “My Bluegrass Heart,” in 2021.)
The group’s long set intro had each all-star band member — Fleck, Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, Bryan Sutton, Mark Schatz, Justin Moses — taking turns at a solo. It was the theme of the evening, with each musician seamlessly displaying instrumental prowess back and forth, song after song.
Shortly before the night’s closing song, Fleck asked the crowd, “Who remembers the old legend John Hartford? Somehow, I got his banjo. Let’s play a tune with it.”
Play it, they did, with Fleck ripping through lick after lick almost faster than comprehensible, coupled with mind-bending polyrhythmic runs.
The crowd then went wild as both Douglas and Bush joined the ensemble on stage to close the night.
While each act didn’t have time for an encore, the cheers from the crowd were enough for the trio to come out on stage by themselves for a rousing finale, finishing up with a rendition of “Tennessee” together.
The whole evening delivered on Douglas’s opening remarks and the promise of a bluegrass-filled night.
Next up at Meijer Gardens: Tonight’s Tuesday Evening Music Club (June 28) with Melophobix and The Soul Syndicate, followed on July 3 by a sold-out show Sheryl Crow and Allison Russel.
PHOTO GALLERY: Bela Fleck & My Bluegrass Heart, Sam Bush Band, Jerry Douglas Band
Frederik Meijer Gardens
Photos by Chelsea Whitaker
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