Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers
- Article by: Libby Funke
- Posted: 06/01/2011
I’ll admit I have several favorite Steve Martin moments. Who doesn’t? My all-time favorite Martin movie moment is when Martin, playing Navin R. Johnson in The Jerk, walks around his mansion in a gritty bathrobe, trying to leave but listing to his wife, Marie, all he needs to survive and picking up each thing as he lists it.
After grabbing a few random objects (“This is all I need"), he adds with finality, “And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control, and the lamp, and that’s all I need ... I don’t need one other thing, not one ...” He adds a chair to his armload of necessities. “I need this.”
I laugh every time I see this clip, and yet, I think it may have been outdone by my most recent Steve Martin moment—his live show at The Woods Amphitheater in Nashville, backed by the Steep Canyon Rangers.
At the beginning of the show, Martin announced that it had been 35 years since his musings had reached the ears of Nashvillians. “And most of you were probably here,” he said through a laugh, hinting at the slightly older audience that filled the amphitheater. Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers have been sporadically touring since fall 2009, and they made Nashville’s newest outdoor amphitheater a stop on their tour.
This was a show for the record books. The Woods was a perfect setting. The short walk on Fontanel’s gravel road led directly into nature. Plus, the walk comes standard with a babbling brook, rustling leaves and 4,000 fans ready to hear the bluegrass musical collaboration of Martin and the Rangers. Once onstage, they made the show feel personal, like they were performing in someone’s backyard.
They opened with a few songs sans lyrics—the best way for them to open since it introduced the audience to their instruments and to the craft each musician brought to the stage. We saw each musician shine while still playing together.
Immediately Steve Martin stood out, not only as a recognizable face, but because he was almost humorously angelic in a white summer suit, while the band flanking him on both sides was dressed in darker toned suits. As hard as I tried to snap photos of the event, Martin consistently showed up as a flash of white light, like someone had cut him out of the photo with scissors, leaving behind a Martin-shaped hole.
My eyes were drawn to his glowing suit and my ears to his remarkable musical talent. It’s no accident that he won “Best Bluegrass Album” at the 2010 Grammys. Now, Martin is combining his talent with one of the best bluegrass bands around.
Woody Platt (a name Martin is convinced was made up for the bluegrass persona) is the tall, even-keeled lead singer of the Rangers. His voice is smooth, and his tone is perfect for bluegrass. He made me a fan of bluegrass with just one song. Platt took the lead for most songs and really maintained control of the band.
Martin even clarified during the show that the Rangers weren’t his band. He said he was “their celebrity” rather than them his band. Several times he stepped back and watched the Rangers rein in the audience, and if his expression was an accurate giveaway to his thoughts, he was continually impressed with their nearly flawless approach to bluegrass.
Still, it was the fiddle player, Nicky Sanders, who stole the show. Playing since he was five, Sanders grew up with his fiddle in tow. Sanders added a spark of wonder to an already phenomenally talented group of musicians. With all major string instruments in attendance—acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass and fiddle—each musician had a solo moment to display his ability, and each also had a moment to joke with Martin. Several times Martin let them go it alone while he was backstage “Googling himself and having a beer.”
Martin didn’t disappoint, and his audience received the extra bonus of two shows in one. Not only did we get Steve Martin the banjo playing, songwriting musician, but we also got Steve Martin the comedian, who incidentally comes as part of the whole deal.
Between songs, Martin joked with the audience about his hot ass, his dog Wally and why he has four banjos.
When introducing a new song, he routinely interjected his opinion. “You know what I think when a band introduces a new song? I think ‘Just play the hits!’ If it’s new, make it a hit, and I will come back and see it!” Every break in the music presented a chance for Martin’s comedic passion to take root. It was a rare moment that the audience sat in silence.
Throughout the evening, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers played their humorous hits like “Jubilation Day,” “Go Away, Stop, Turn Around, Come Back” and “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.” But they wove in some more traditional-sounding numbers as well with “Daddy Played the Banjo,” and a personal favorite “Yellow-Backed Fly.”
Toward the end of the evening, the air became brisk, and as the temperature fell, the band played faster. One song, called “Breakdown,” centered on how quickly bluegrass artists can play their instruments.
With an encore of “Me and Paul Revere,” a new song about Paul Revere’s horse, and the ever-famous “King Tut,” I have to say, at the end of the day, this concert was one of the only things I need on a Friday night.