All my life I’ve wanted to play a concert in Littleton, Colorado. Tonight, I feel like I’m one step closer to my goal.
Steve Martin first hit the national scene in 1977 when he released his first album Let’s Get Small. The album started off with him playing the banjo. After a few seconds of snappy banjo licks, Martin said, “Hey, this guy’s gooood.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=htTLWC1unMc That simple beginning revealed two Martinesque aspects that define him to this day. The first, and most obvious, is his banjo playing, something he has been doing much more of in the last few years. The second is a style of humor based on how great he is. (What’s the opposite of self-deprecating humor? Self-aggrandizing humor?) Both of these characteristics were well represented Saturday night at the Denver Botanic Gardens, Chatfield Unit.
Some nights I play the banjo fantastic. Sometimes I play good, it could be better. I went to see Eric Clapton in concert a few weeks ago. I didn’t think he was so funny.
About the same time as his first album, Martin really became a wild and crazy guy and started hosting Saturday Night Live. A movie career followed kicked off by the erudite The Jerk. During that time, the banjo seemed to play second fiddle. Now the banjo is back.
We’re enjoying the excellent weather, the beautiful sky and playing for your cellphones.
Over the last few years Martin has been recording and touring with the Steep Canyon Rangers, a straight ahead bluegrass band from North Carolina. The five piece band does everything a bluegrass band is supposed to do: instrumental prowess, if not virtuosity, on the main bluegrass instruments, guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and bass (all acoustic) and tight three and four part vocal harmonies essential for creating that high, lonesome sound which is indispensable to true bluegrass.
I’m doing two of my favorite things right now, comedy and charging people to hear music.
For the most part, Martin played his banjo and told jokes. He provided some “response” vocals on the hilarious “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs,” a Martin original. See link, below. Another comedy song was “Jubilation Day” which was actually a break up song. The majority of the tunes, however, were fairly serious bluegrass fare. Most of the songs in the program were originals written by the Rangers, Martin or Edie Brickell. The originals were in traditional bluegrass style and would fit right in next to standards like “Rocky Top” or “Wabash Cannonball,” had the band chosen to play tunes like that.
Coming back on stage after the Rangers played a tune without him: I got to do something just now most of you didn’t, I went to the bathroom. In the bathroom was a sign that said, “Employees must wash hands.” That couldn’t be referring to me! Me?!? An Employee?
Coming back on stage later for the encore: There’s quite a commotion backstage. The police are there. It turns out I am an employee and they were insisting I wash my hands. They had soap and towels….
Edie Brickell seemed to be a fairly unlikely candidate to be part of a tour like this. Best known for the hit “What I Am” from her first album in 1988 and married to Paul Simon, she didn’t exactly seem to ooze bluegrass. Her comedy resume also seemed somewhat lacking. (Wait, that’s Martin’s department. Never mind.) But earlier this year she released an album with Martin called Love Has Come for You which gets down to the earthy bluegrass sound with the Rangers backing. Martin wrote the music for the album and Brickell wrote the lyrics. Several songs from this album were on the evening’s set list.
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Brickell was on stage for about half the show. Her presence added some vocal diversification to the evening. The Rangers can sing, no doubt, but the female vocals in the harmonies were a pleasant addition.
I don’t think of the Rangers as my backup band. I think of me as their celebrity.
Comedy and bluegrass; two types of entertainment that usually don’t go together, but Steve Martin can do both and he pulled it off.
Atheists Don’t Have No Songs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wogta8alHiU
Daddy Played the Banjo
Get Along Stray Dog (with Brickell)
When You Get to Ashville (with Brickell)
Yes She Did (with Brickell)
Love Has Come For You (with Brickell)
Instrumental, Rangers only
Just Got to Heaven (a cappella)
Atheists Don’t Have No Songs
The Great Remember (Martin solo)
(Brickell on remainder)
Sun’s Gonna Shine
You Can Stay with Me
Pretty Little One
Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Train
Dance at the Wedding
Remember Me This Way
Pour Me Another Round/So Long Now
Steve Martin, banjo, vocals, jokes
Charles Humphrey, bass
Graham Sharp, banjo, guitar, vocals
Nicky Sanders, fiddle, vocals
Mike Guggino, mandolin, vocals
Woody Platt, guitar, vocals
Edie Brickell, vocals, guitar
Mike Ashton, percussion