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Bela Fleck returns to Charleston with the original Flecktones

WANT TO GO?

Bela Fleck and the original Flecktones

WHERE: Clay Center

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: $15, $30 and $40

INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.org

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's been slightly more than a year since banjo phenom Bela Fleck last played in Charleston. In an interview prior to that visit, he mentioned in passing that original Flecktone Howard Levy would be rejoining the band for a new album and a new tour.

Fleck is back, along with Levy and the rest of the Flecktones, for a Saturday night show at the Clay Center.

The show is Levy's first appearance at the Clay Center, but not his first in Charleston.

"I think I was here for a radio show," he said, which would have been on "Mountain Stage" in November 1992, not long after The Flecktones released their third album, "UFO Tofu," and right before Levy left the band.

It's been a pretty good reunion so far, Levy said. Things are better than they used to be. For instance, the buses are bigger than they were.

"The buses on the tour have bunks where I can lie down and aisles I can stand in," he said.

Regular buses tend to seem small when you're 6'4".

"I used to have to curl up like a snail to sleep," he remembered. "I couldn't stand up."

Musically, the band is much the same, though Levy said time has softened some of the edges.

"The big thing is Bela enjoys co-writing a lot more than he did back then," he explained. "Back then, he just had this flood of tunes, and he was mostly interested in just recording his own stuff.

"He's more collaborative -- but so am I."

On the new album, "Rocket Science," Levy pointed out, he wrote two of the tracks. He also co-wrote "Life in Eleven" with Fleck, which won a Grammy this year for Best Instrumental.

There weren't a lot of hard feelings when Levy left the band, he said -- at least, he didn't think so.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, even if the band was only doing Bela Fleck's songs, all of the Flecktones had input into the arrangements. They put their marks on every song.

"We were always extremely collaborative then," he said. "Everybody contributed significant ideas."

The same is true now, Levy added.

"The two songs I wrote on the record would never sound the way they do with any other musicians. The unique musical personalities in the band, we'd come up with stuff nobody else would come up with."

It's good to be back, he said, though Levy never really went too far away from the band. Since the mid-1990s, he has popped up with the Flecktones occasionally for jazz festivals and as a special guest at a few shows. This current Flecktones reunion owes its roots to a three-week tour the band asked him to join in 2009.

Levy wasn't certain if the original lineup would stick together past that tour. He's a busy man. Aside from this band, he is involved with several other musical outfits including Trio Globo, an acoustic world-music/jazz ensemble. He also teaches harmonica through his website and is a frequent guest on public radio's "Prairie Home Companion."

But who's to say what will happen after this? Levy thinks the tour is fun while it lasts. At the very least, it's taking him places he hasn't been in years, including West Virginia, where he used to teach harmonica at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins during the summers.

"I did that for seven summers in the 1980s," he said. "I had a great time. A lot of students became lifelong friends. We learned a lot of great stuff together, and I got turned on to a lot of Appalachian stuff I wouldn't have known about."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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