Renowned banjo player Bela Fleck leads a N.Y. Banjo Summit at Great Barrington’s Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center Sunday evening at 7.
Renowned banjo player Bela Fleck leads a N.Y. Banjo Summit at Great Barrington’s Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center Sunday evening at 7. (Photo courtesy Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center)

Being considered as one of the best in the world at anything is a heady title. But banjo player extraordinaire Bela Fleck seems to hand it pretty well.

Fleck, 55, will be performing with The Banjo Summit, a group of some of the most talented banjo musicians in the world. They'll be at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Sunday.

"(The idea) came out of a special concert that Peter Lesser organized at The Egg in Albany," said Fleck in an e-mail interview. "We had an amazing one-night-only show with scads of New York banjo players -- of which there are a surprising amount.

"Ten years later, Peter invited us to do a reunion, with a smaller pile of pickers -- and take it on the road. That went fabulously well, and we're now doing our third tour."

Fleck will be joined in Great Barrington by banjo legend Tony Trischka, Richie Stearns of the Horseflies, Noam Pilkeny of the Punch Brothers, Eric Weissberg, who is best known for his work in the movie "Deliverance" (Fleck calls him "the dueling banjos guy") and Bill Keith, who has played with Bill Monroe and David Grisman.

Special guest is Abigail Washburn, who also happens to be Fleck's wife, as well as a great banjo player.

With so many banjo players, the question is, what kind of set will the audience be hearing?

"It'll be a variety show, with dance numbers and some of the guys come down from the ceiling on gold-plated disco balls," cracked Fleck.

Not really. Actually, the show will feature each performer in minisets, "and we'll do some big group numbers and there are some intimate duos and trios."

As for the dueling banjo guy, Fleck said there are plans for Weissberg to do the dueling banjos number from the movie.

"I would consider it a very likely possibility," he wrote.

So far, said Fleck, the tour "has been a blast. The camaraderie is so deep, and it's rare to have all these generations of banjo warriors traveling together. We all know how special this is."

Fleck, born in New York City, is unembarrassed to admit he was drawn to the banjo as a youngster after hearing Earl Scruggs play the banjo solo on the television show "The Beverly Hillbillies."

"I think Earl Scruggs is the guy that got most banjo players started and he had a huge impact on me," wrote Fleck.

Weissberg's work in Deliverance also impacted Fleck.

"I loved ('Deliverance') and that led directly to me buying a banjo," he said.

Trischka was one of Fleck's teachers and Keith was another influence.

"That's the way it is," he wrote. "Someone influences someone and the next person picks up a lot of it through them."

Fleck's teachers have clearly done well. Fleck has won 13 Grammy Awards in the past 18 years. Perhaps more importantly, Fleck has been nominated for more than 30 awards, in categories as diverse as Country, Pop, Contemporary World, Classical, Jazz Bluegrass and Spoken Word, according to the Grammy Awards website.

To reach Derek Gentile:
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