Ben Folds will be at the Bell Auditorium May 31.
Ben Folds will be at the Bell Auditorium May 31.

Artist hopes people fold requests into paper airplanes

Ben Folds doesn’t mind following uncharted paths – as long as they are interesting.

“If it seems interesting to me – and I have a manager who is equally ADD – we follow our interests. Things that are opportunities — that would seem like distractions or seem like they weren’t an opportunity — I’ve found when I’ve done them against everyone else’s advice has led to amazing things,” said the award-winning musician, bestselling author and photographer who will re-open the Bell Auditorium with his May 31 Paper Airplane Request Tour.

Folds has had a multi-faceted career, not typical of a rock musician, he said.

“Folds first rose to fame in the mid-’90s with Ben Folds Five, whose acerbic, genre-bending take on piano pop helped define an entire era of alternative rock. After scoring multiple hit singles and a gold record with the band, Folds launched his solo career in 2001,” according to his biography at his website.

Those interesting pathways have led him to composing and performing his first piano concerto for the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Ballet in 2014, recording a classical album in 2015 and becoming the artistic advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in 2017.

Another opportunity led him to being a judge on the TV series’ “The Sing Off.”

Ben Folds

“The Sing-Off itself was among a number of things against everyone else’s advice, but it landed me on a television show,” he said. “It seemed interesting and fun.”

Not everything that has seemed interesting has panned out for something bigger, but Folds doesn’t mind taking chances.

The premise for his current tour is another example of a random rabbit trail that seemed interesting at the time. He’d been doing a request tour, but having people yell their requests was chaotic.

“It’s kind of hard to do because everyone is screaming at the same time. It’s aggressive sounding on stage. It’s like you’re at a town hall meeting or something,” he said.

One night, he decided to send out a tweet that if anyone wanted to hear a song to fold it into a paper airplane and throw it on the stage.

“We got a surprising response,” he said.

It was mainly surprising because he wasn’t sure where audience members had gotten the paper from. But the requests flew onto the stage and that became a theme he’s used every five years or so. Folds has brushed up on close to 400 songs that he can play if they are thrown at him.

The show is split into two sets. The first one is a cemented playlist; the second set is the one that comes from random paper airplanes.

 “It’s a good night of songs and stories and requests,” he said.

 While he sings a fair number of the songs flown onto the stage, he admits there are some he doesn’t do.

“There are flaws with the idea of playing whatever lands on the stage. If you just played one, you won’t do it again. And if someone wants ‘Cocaine’ by Eric Clapton, I’m not going to play that. I don’t know it,” he said.

 Folds is still looking for interesting things to do and keeps finding them.

One project that he didn’t think was going to be interesting but has since drawn him in is a Christmas album that he’s working on.

And he sees himself writing musicals at some point as well, but what stage that musical shows up on is still up in the air.

 “Broadway isn’t all musicals. It may be in another form. I don’t know exactly. I haven’t gotten there yet,” he said.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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