To call Bela Fleck a banjo virtuoso seems somehow inadequate. Indeed, he has made a career out of fitting into virtually any musical context -- no matter how seemingly absurd. One of the oddest situations he found himself in was playing with pop-classical star Josh Groban a few years back.
"He invited me to do a TV show once," Fleck said in a recent phone interview. "I said I'd do it if he'd get me two first-class tickets so my girlfriend and I could make it a vacation. It was a surreal, worlds-colliding kind of vacation. The show was at Universal Amphitheatre, and they filmed a few songs. It actually worked out great.
"What I've found is that if you think you don't like something but then meet the person and play with them, you discover what's great about them. I started out as an elitist punk, and I'm trying not to be that anymore. Sometimes I do these things as a test, because I'm curious about what super-successful people do. So I went, and there were a lot of things I dug about him as a person and the way he performed. It wasn't necessarily the kind of music I'd want to do all the time, but it's instructive to see how different scenes work."
Back in the realm of what Fleck usually does, he plays with a group of African performers Tuesday night in Durham. For chit-chat and details about that, see the interview in Friday's paper.