Apr 3, 2009

Bela Fleck and the Africa Project in KCMO

I was worried that today's story about the show in KCMO (Kansas City, Missouri for those unaware) would end up "running out of gas" like yesterday's story about the KU women's basketball game. Boy, was I wrong. In fact, I'm not sure how I thought that this trip would let down, especially with the outcome.

Last night I went to the famous Uptown Theater in KCMO with a couple of friends to see Bela Fleck and the African Project. If you aren't familiar with Bela Fleck, he is a 11-time Grammy winning artist that is considered one of the premier banjo players in the world. He has gained extensive notiriety with his group Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and has performed all around the world showcasing a style of banjo playing that makes you see the instrument in a brand new light. (belafleck.com)

Minus his Flecktones, this show showcased collaborations with a group of mostly African performers whose instrumental talents ranged from acoustic guitar and kalimba to a harp called a kora and a tin can full of broken glass attached to a stick. The modest sized crowd was even treated to a taste of incredible bluegrass fiddle playing which blended almost seamlessly with the African vibe despite some technical difficulties with the mics. The speed, accuracy and passion that these performers displayed left my mind blown at the talent that these musicians hold.

Each performer brought their own cultural and personal touches to the mix as they performed individually or in duets while also collaborating with Bela on his banjo. The end of the night culminated in a 2 song, stage crowding finale that brought the whole night together into a rhythmic chorus of strings, percussion and vocals that filled the room, kept your foot tapping and forced a smile upon your face.

Though this music isn't usually what's adorning my music playlists, the night was a true cultural awakening and a major eye opener to the musical possibilities that surround us. A show like this gives you a great appreciation for music as an art form that goes way beyond radio singles, charts, and popularity contests. I highly recommend dropping your pop music expectations and checking out Bela Fleck in any of his collaborative incarnations. Our tickets were free from a friend, but I would have paid good money to gain this great experience.

And though the music truly showcased the night, the story does nothing but get better. The doors opened at 7:00pm and since we were about 40 minutes early, we decided to hit up a bar that was across the street. The minute we walked into the bar, a sports bar no less, we had a weird vibe, but not being familiar with the area we brushed it off. It didn't take more than a couple of minutes to realize something was up as one of us noticed a pair of golden testicles hanging from the ceiling. This is where we pieced things together.

With the fear of being stereotypical here, things started to become obvious. The bar was full of men, not odd for a sports bar, but these men were pretty friendly with each other, namely the pair behind the bar serving drinks. Along with the cherry in my friend's drinks and the poster of a shirtless David Beckham behind the pool table, it was rather obvious that we had stumbled into a gay bar.

A quick cell phone internet search proved our theories. After the drinks were finished we leisurely walked out of the place with what seemed like a hundred pairs of eyes on us, although that was probably in my head. But the story doesn't end there.

We turned the corner and walked toward the theater only to be accosted by what I assumed to be a homeless man who spun us a story about how he had just been released from prison after a 25 year jail sentence and he needed any contributions we could muster so that he could buy a pair of boots for $7.50 at the Salvation Army for a construction job he had lined up for the next day. My friends handed over some leftover change from our gay bar experience to help the man out. Can't say I believed the whole story but the guy had a firm handshake going for him.

Overall, it was a very exciting night. Sorry for the novel, just had to get this out, I couldn't make this stuff up!

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