The Funktopus is real. It isn't one of those late-night creatures you see only in grainy video tape or beef jerky commercials, nor is it a beasty Saturday morning cartoon. The Funktopus makes two arms sound like eight; it is the sound of forty fingers snapping and sixteen shoes shuffling on the dance floor in a bizarre trance of rhythm. Yes, the Funktopus is real. And it's coming to Calvin College.
The Funktopus is the self-appointed nickname of maniacal bassist Victor Wooten. Using his thumb the way a guitarist uses a pick, Wooten's mile-a-minute string-popping and dance-floor throbbing often sounds like the product of eight slithering arms and has made him arguably the most well-respected bassist in music.
Wooten grew up in a musical family. He began playing bass at the age of three, growing together with his brother Regi, himself now a renowned guitarist, and had a regular gig at Busch Gardens while still a kid. In 1988, Victor moved to Nashville, where he met lightning-quick banjo player Béla Fleck. Along with another Wooten brother, Roy, the trio formed Béla Fleck and the Flecktones and went on to become one of the most influential groups in what is often called New Grass, a more updated, contemporary version of bluegrass music which mixed traditional banjo-playing with elements of jazz, funk, and fusion. Wooten's low end theory – that bass can be just as viable a lead instrument as guitar, banjo or anything else – was one of the foundations of the Flecktones' sound.
In fact, nearly all of Wooten's prolific career has served to prove that very theory. Over the course of six solo records, eight albums with the Flecktones, and innumerable guest appearances, Wooten has transformed the bass from rumbling accompaniment to bright-lights star. At times, Wooten pops his bass strings like a classic funk player; at times, he's playing contemplative lines like a classically-trained guitarist; at times, his deft harmonics sound more like an electric piano than a bass guitar.
The one string uniting all of these seemingly-disparate styles, though, is Wooten's charisma and humility. Far from being arrogant, Wooten often teaches bass clinics when he's not touring, including a week-long retreat in Only, Tennessee, called the Bass/Nature Camp which guides students into a more spiritual approach to bass-playing. Wooten believes that music is a language that we must speak, not a science to be studied, and his campers spend as much time working on their animal tracking skills as they do their bass soloing. Music and nature are connected in ways that we hardly understand, and the Bass/Nature Camps are constantly mining that question.
When he performs at Calvin, Wooten will be accompanied by longtime collaborator JD Blair, a funky drummer in his own right.