Three of bluegrass’ premier instrumentalists – banjoist Bela Fleck, mandolinist (and fiddler) Sam Bush and Dobro man Jerry Douglas lit up the stage (and proverbial marquee) at Rose Music Center at the Heights on June 30 for what was dubbed A Bluegrass Happening.
Bluegrass – inflected with Bush’s rock-and-roll attitude and Douglas’ penchant for country-blues and jazz – most assuredly happened. The trio and a host of friends and collaborators – including fiddler Michael Cleveland, mandolinist Sierra Hull, guitarist Bryan Sutton and Dobro/banjo/fiddle player Justin Moses – squeezed a multi-day bluegrass festival into one glorious evening of music. The pacing was as smooth as the riffing with just 20 minutes of downtime between 7 and 10:40 p.m.
Fleck and his six-piece group headlined with a 90-minute clinic that featured as many as 11 musicians on stage at a time with guest spots from Bush, Douglas and their respective support players.
Bush and Douglas’ sets were played through amps. Fleck’s band played into microphones, giving the mostly instrumental performance a quieter, front-porch feeling on a sultry, southwest Ohio evening.
Fleck was an amiable band leader, as he switched banjos – playing one that belonged to John Hartford – and his band tossed solos around as if in a musical game of hot potato. Heavy on songs from 2021’s My Bluegrass Heart, the set found Fleck in his natural element as the musicians cranked out innumerable notes – none extraneous – at incredible speed.
Four simultaneous fiddlers? You bet. A couple of Dobros? Of course. Dueling mandolins? Why not?
Standing ovation after standing ovation greeted Fleck’s set. And when the three principals finally gathered alone on the stage to begin the encore, it was pin-drop quiet.
Bush took the middle slot with his band of drums, electric and upright bass, acoustic guitar and banjo accompanying his mandolin and fiddle playing. The 50-minute barnburner mixed favorites like “Riding that Bluegrass Train” and “I Just Wanna Feel Something” and found Bush playing slide mandolin, head-banging and striking guitar-god poses in a way that suited the atmosphere he created as the early-evening sunshine beat down on him and his band.
“Good afternoon, music lovers,” the shade-donning musician said at around half-past 8.
Ohio native Douglas and band – electric guitar, double bass and fiddle – sauntered on to the unadorned stage unannounced at 7 – and launched into a 45-minute set of new songs, including fiddler Christian Sedelmyer’s ”Deacon’s Waltz” and the instrumental “Hide and Seek,” a fan favorite from Douglas’ Union Station days.
The Dobro master – “the world’s greatest,” Fleck declared toward the end of the show – did his best work during the sit ins; however, his opening slot was the ideal launching pad for the evening’s promised “long line of bluegrass bands.”
Douglas, Bush, Fleck and their compatriots delivered quite a Happening, indeed.
Bela Fleck, Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas at Rose Music Center
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