Celtic Connections opens almightily with Bela Fleck

Three voices: Make one stunning performance
Three voices: Make one stunning performanceCopyright Dave Taylor

Jolting 2012's Celtic Connection festival into all go, Bela Fleck And The Flecktones were the opening act for this year's globally renowned folk, roots and world music festival. Incorporating over 300 events into 18 days, the Royal Concert Hall, on the crest of the city centre, played host to the opening event.

After a previous parting, this evening's show marked the European debut for the quartet's return, after their release, Rocket Science, last year propelled them into the Billboard, iTunes and SoundScan Jazz charts. Each part of the unit known for their musicianship and innovation as a solo artist, as well as a group, their unity alongside some special Celtic Connection guests had an enthusiastic crowd perched on the edge of their seats for this evening's show.

Their incredibly unique style musically is mirrored visually in their four appearances. Often leaning towards the experimental side of things, an elaborate fusion of bluegrass,  jazz and folk, only scuffs the surface of this band's acoustic palate. Add collaborations from Irish songstress Karan Casey, America's Abigail Washburn, Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes and American bluegrass fiddler Casey Driessen, and you can imagine the blend of cultures and influences on the resultant recipe for noise.

Often creating a wonderful chaos with an abundance of cross rhythms and  layering complexities, Driessen is added to the mix in the first half, appearing on stage in red patent shoes and a devil's tail. The track which the band play together showcases a rasping harmonica from founder Howard Levy. Here a tongue-in-cheek solo  meanders through a few well-known tracks, highlighting his phenomenal tone and dexterity on the instrument, which he plays like one of much greater sophistication.


These tracks which lie closer to a jig, and feature extreme drumming pirate, Roy Wooten, break away to bare works, featuring only vocals and fiddle. Saddened song resonates through the poised hall, the contrasting musical styles melting flawlessly from one into the other.

The three female vocalists have very different vocal styles, but again, the variety compliments rather than reveal a weaker performer. An a cappella solo in Gaelic tongue by MacInnes casts an incredible still over the crowd before chinese banjo is added to the mix by Washburn in an experimental track.

This track has a deranged flavour that you'd expect from an elaborate character, like PJ Harvey, but allows the set to incorporate another niche, before rocking back into more familiar bluegrass territory.

Ending on an old medley of tunes to close, the eleven member strong production receive a standing ovation, before a milder track rears up for the ultimate grand finale.

It wasn’t one for the faint hearted or the non-committed , but opening night at Celtic Connections 2012 was mightily impressive, and an indicator for things to come for Glasgow, throughout the remainder of the famous festival.

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