Just the thought of seeing Steve Martin on Friday night had me giddy in my office chair all week. Finally, the time came, and I found myself equally giddy in my theater chair anticipating the start of the show.
The crowd was much more diverse and younger than the typical Kravis grey-haired audience. A 5-year old boy was sitting to my right. I asked him if he was excited to see Steve Martin, and he responded with a blank stare. Turned out his "I'm not a regular mom, I'm a cool mom" chaperone had strategically chosen this as his first concert, hoping it would turn into a special memory.
The lights went down and the chit chat subsided; it was time to put cool mom's theory to the test. Steve Martin waltzed out behind his Steep Canyon Rangers and wasted no time getting to the funny with a short monologue before breaking into their first song. He remained abundantly aware the entire show that this was not necessarily an audience of fanatic bluegrass listeners -- he was obligated to be funny and delivered fully.
The jokes were big but left room for the music to be the real star of the show, and sometimes, even the butt of the joke. Said Steve, "A lot of people say, why a music career, why now? And I say 'Hey, you guys are my band.'" And that they were. The Steep Canyon Rangers did anything but play background to The Jerk. Their talents were showcased front and center.
Bluegrass is not a genre heavy in my rotation, by any means, but the fast-paced, old style tunes got me moving right away. Steve gave us all a mini bluegrass education throughout the night, truly spreading the message of this genre he's fallen so in love with. He taught us about his prized banjo, including the difference between Scruggs and Clawhammer style playing, and that it needs to be re-tuned basically after every song. That provided the perfect small pocket of time for some much desired witty banter. And that was basically the pattern: song, banter while tuning, song, banter while tuning. Exactly what you crave when you walk in the door.
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The stage set up was simply, just the men and their instruments. No drummer, falling in line with bluegrass tradition, but there was an iPad that got some attention as well as three banjos set up in the back. Mr. Wild and Crazy Guy said, "You are probably wondering why I have so many banjos on stage," and I was. "I think of my banjos as my children, which means one of them is probably not mine."
I watched the reflection of Martin's banjo dance across the theater throughout the night as he and the Grammy award winning Steep Canyon Rangers gladly played original tunes that put a smile on all the faces on stage and in the crowd. Standouts included originals "Yellow Black Fly" and "Jubilation Day" as well as the acapella jam "Atheists Have No Songs."
After a rambunctious first half, there was a quick intermission before they whole crew came back with the addition of Edie Brickell and a drummer. Edie, a star in her own right who made it big with her New Bohemians' hit "What I Am," has a truly awesome voice. Not to mention, she's Paul Simon's wife. Steve took a seat and let her have the spotlight. It was fun to learn how their new album Love Has Come For You came together. Steve would email Edie over the banjo tunes and she would write lyrics, add her vocals, and send them back. After a while, they had enough for an album.
As Steve tuned his banjo, he would let Edie describe how she came about writing the lyrics to the next song. Not as full of comedic glory, Edie was shy in comparison to Martin, but still cracked some jokes that were made more entertaining by her bashful delivery.
At one point during the title track, the drummer used his knee as an instrument with some hearty slaps, an exciting deviation from the norm. Everything culminated with what can only be described as a raunchy fiddle party. For the last song, badass fiddler Nicky Sanders took theoretical center stage and soloed like I have never seen anyone solo before. He mixed familiar songs like Dick Dale's "Misirlou" in with his own bluegrass blend of sheer fiddle domination.
A booming standing O meant the stage full of entertainers had no choice but to come back and give us an encore. No "What I Am." No "King Tut." No one cared, the show was awesome. It was the perfect blend of comedy and music, with an added bluegrass education and the opportunity to see a comic legend do what he loves.
I asked the boy next to me what he thought of the show. He said, "It was GREAT" and grabbed his proud mama's hand as they scurried for the exit. Past his bedtime, but worth it no doubt.
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