REVIEW: Folds shows his classy side with Nashville Symphony

Chris Rutledge

Editor’s note: Herald reporter Chris Rutledge attended Saturday night’s Ben Folds concert in Nashville. Here are his thoughts on the concert, which benefited the Nashville Symphony.

Ben Folds is always a class act. Whether he’s rocking a club with his touring band, playing solo unaccompanied or being joined by the Nashville Symphony, Folds is dedicated to providing a unique show to his audience.

The Nashville native is no stranger to playing with orchestras, particularly Nashville’s, which he calls world class. So when the flood that raged through Nashville earlier this year left the Schermerhorn Symphony Center on its list of casualties, Folds decided to make his yearly stop in Music City a special occasion.

Folds was joined last night by the Nashville Symphony and 9-year-old piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick, for a show in Andrew Jackson Hall to benefit the Nashville Symphony, and local volunteer fire departments.

The set consisted of material stretching from as far back as his first album to his recent collaborative effort with British author Nick Hornby. The audience was a strange mixture of Folds fans and older folks who seemed unfamiliar with his music.

Perhaps the most profound moment came when audience members began to call for live staple “Rock This Bitch,” an improvisational song Folds has been playing for many years. Basically, Folds and company invent lyrics and music on the spot with the loose tie in of the lyric “rock this bitch.”

At first Folds shrugged off these requests, but the audience persisted, and the songwriter gave in and set about inventing parts for the different sections in the orchestra. After a few minutes of “conducting,” Folds had the entire orchestra playing a tight piece that had the audience captivated. Drummer Sam Smith later said that Folds had never performed an improvisational piece with an orchestra before.

“We’re rockin’ this bitch for the Schermerhorn,” Folds sang.

Other highlights included Folds conducting the audience like a choir during the song “Not The Same,” and Bortnick taking over the piano to cover Mozart and Little Richard.

Bortnick had the audience “awing” over his mispronunciation of the word Schermerhorn or “Skerminhorn,” as he put it. Moments later he left jaws on the floor with his skill and tenacity on the piano. Not many 9-year-olds can take the lead role in an orchestra, but Bortnick was more than up to the challenge.

Folds closed the show with the song “The Luckiest,” which he dedicated to his wife, Fleur Folds, who he added had a big part in organizing the show.

From his pop-rock beginnings with the band Ben Folds Five to inventing sections for an orchestra on stage, Folds has proven time and again that he is one of America’s most prolifically eclectic artists.