Many of the elements that made country music popular in Nashville were once criticized for being “too yokel.” Now, as bluegrass, country and blues grow past their once-provincial natures and into the hearts of music lovers on an international scale, musicians are working to get mainstream audiences to take it seriously. Béla Fleck, master banjo picker and frontman of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, has provided a video diary of his energies to utilize the tones of bluegrass in a concerto for the Schermerhorn Symphony Center presented in late 2011. The film spans the period between 2010 and the days just prior to the actual performance of Fleck’s concerto.
I wanted to like this movie. A lot more. It’s a “hometown heroes” kind of story that, had it been done differently, could have been an important piece of music history. But the problem is that Fleck is distracted, focusing his attention on the concerto debut date, not fully bringing the audience along for the ride. The low-quality aesthetic doesn’t add the unfiltered, ground-zero charm fans might hope. Here we have the aesthetic of cellphone footage, very jumpy edits, and a lack of focus in both camera and content reminiscent of college video projects. Captions seem to cheat across the screen, telling us things rather than showing them.
This is not a film for casual music fans, but rather captured misadventures for music nerds and true fans of Fleck. We are given legitimately engaging bits where Fleck cracks jokes or discusses with other musicians what makes great music. But to hear this great creative wisdom, one must wait for the train of B-roll footage to pass. Give us more Earl Scruggs, Future Man and Steve Martin and less chit-chat and jogging at the beach.
Still, the concerto itself, toward the film’s end, is worth a view.