@ZackTeibloom Grammy Award winner for Bluegrass album of the year Steve Martin wants to be taken seriously as a musician. And with good reason. Sure, he gets the attention because of his comedy, and it is a part of his act, but it’s music first. Even if the music is a funny song about how Atheists have no songs (the Jews have Havana Nagila.)
Martin is backed by the Steep Canyon Rangers, a tight group of guys comprised of an upright bass, acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle, another banjo and harmonies. It may be tongue in cheek some of the time, but it’s a tight band playing real bluegrass. But he’s Steve Martin. As Andy might phrase it, “he can’t not tell jokes.” And most of them were dryer than my mouth after chomping a bunch of crawfish.
Martin held up an iPad and said his set was written on it, noting it was a $500 set list, saying “My fans expect nothing less.” His banter was a constant. “I try to write songs based on personal experience. This one is ‘I Think My Masseuse is Too Chatty'” he dead panned, never lacking in dad jokes for his banter. “Saga of the Old West,” Martin continued, contains “sadness and melancholy….like the look on my agent’s face when I told him I wanted to be a banjo player.”
The mix of true bluegrass with his dry sense of humor was easy to take for those new to Bluegrass. I’d put myself in that boat and found myself truly enjoying the set on all levels. Martin picked like a pro and gave bluegrass a platform it wouldn’t have had without his fame. I’m not sure it’ll ever get to be like in Being John Malkovich when he makes puppets cool, but it got him on a main stage before Elvis Costello and, as he joked, kept a Jazz festival entranced by bluegrass.
Martin pretty much told us he was going to do an encore, saying the last song of his set always brought an encore and standing ovation. He played a few off his most recent album, like “Daddy Played the Banjo” and “Late for School,” and his Atheists have no songs was a hoot, but the show closer of “King Tut” was the biggest treat. Martin did his old staple from SNL days and killed it. He even gave us a flash of the Walk Like an Egyptian dance move. By effectively sprinkling his humor into a legit bluegrass show, Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers gave a performance that would leave a comedy or bluegrass fan happy.