Guest Review: Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

By Quinn Bennett

Near the beginning of the Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers’ show at the Performing Arts Center this past week on Nov. 13 and 14, Martin proclaimed that some bluegrass bands have talent and most have fun, but Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers have both. A mixture of comedy and music, this show did not disappoint.

Martin begins by telling a true story on how he met the band; at a dinner party when he was introduced by his wife. Martin continually takes jabs at the band, but one can’t help but notice the dynamic the entire band and Martin have.

Their songs ranged from the melancholy “The Great Remember” to the foot-stomping “The Dance at the Wedding.” Martin has been playing banjo for close to 50 years, and performed in both the Scruggs (or three-finger) and clawhammer styles.

Martin made sure to give each of the Steep Canyon Rangers their own bit of spotlight as well—the Rangers playing a few of their own songs without Martin (but not before Martin pulled a beer out of the “refrigerator bass” of Charles Humphrey III).

“If you’re not enjoying the show so far, you’re wrong,” Martin said midway through the show. He was correct, because there was something for just about everyone. Martin wrote all the songs he played with the group, such as the comedic “Jubilation Day” and the murder-ballad “Pretty Little One.”

While bluegrass was the music of the night, on two occasions the band huddled around a microphone for an a cappella tune. The first was slow and haunting, and the second, “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs,” was hilarious. Martin’s voice seemed to be flat for the first half of the show, but he grew into it and by “Pretty Little One” he was spot-on. Martin’s segues between each song were quite entertaining, although a few stretched on a bit too long.

Overall, this show delivered everything from guffaws to songs that made the entire crowd clap along. I’m personally glad Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers stopped by to play at this little “roadside honky tonk.” I also have it on good word that the Steep Canyon Rangers will be back in short accord, perhaps even for a state tour.

All photos by Quinn Bennett

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