Papa and I headed out to the Max M. Fisher Music Center on Monday to see Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers. The performance title, An Evening of Bluegrass and Banjo, fit the event perfectly.
Photography is not allowed at the Max, although you wouldn’t have known it by watching the crowd. Papa left his cameras at home, so we enjoyed the show, and watched others take cameras out of their pockets and purses to take photos. The crowd included at least a couple of Steve Martin fans, a guy with a white suit and an arrow “through” his head, and another guy with Martin bunny ears.
To be sure, I am not a Steve Martin fan; perhaps it is most accurate to say that I am neutral on stand up comedy. I am also not a movie gore, so I know little about Martin beyond his latest CD, The Crow, a TV appearance with Earl Scruggs, and a quick look at his show at the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) Awards Show last October. OK, I also know he reads and sometimes posts on a bluegrass discussion list I belong to. I am, however, a huge Steep Canyon Rangers fan; we once parked our motor home in downtown Ann Arbor in order to attend a Rangers show at The Ark.
I purchased Martin’s CD before it was re-released by a major label, because it was a banjo CD, with a impressive list of supporting musicians. Perhaps there was a little curiosity involved in that purchase decision, too. The CD is pleasing, contains a variety of music which is well played and fun to listen to. It is a good CD, but not a bluegrass CD. The same thing applies to the show Steve and the Rangers presented Monday in Detroit. It was a good, entertaining show, which contained some bluegrass music. People who believe bluegrass music is the only music would probably not enjoy it as much as I did.
One thing for sure, Steve Martin can play the banjo, and play it well. He plays a frailing style, and also a three-finger “Scruggs” style which is used in bluegrass. I like the mellow sound of an open backed banjo, as well as bluegrass style so the variety of music played on the show was pleasing to me. The show contained music from Martin’s CD, from the Steep Canyon Ranger’s catalog, and a couple of new songs. Within the first few songs Woody Platt was called upon to sing Daddy Played the Banjo, my favorite song from The Crow, which was sung on the CD by Tim O’Brien. Platt has a distinctive voice almost attacking the mic, and packing quite a punch in his vocals. I found Woody’s version quite pleasing, and Martin’s banjo made the song, just as it does on the recorded version.
There were jokes, the most notable of which was the new “Toyota Banjo”, which just kept going faster and faster until someone stopped it. I was still trying to figure out when Toyota started making banjos and why anyone would play one (when great banjos with familiar makers are readily available) when the punch line came. No, I am not slow, just not used to comedy, OK?
The Rangers did three songs while Martin took a break, the last one was the wonderful Wade Mainer song, I Can’t Sit Down. I couldn’t stay seated when that one ended. As often happens at non-bluegrass events, and I was not suspired that the only song the audience seemed to know was the Orange Blossom Special, on which Nicky Sanders did his usual awesome job on to end the show. There were two curtain calls, and the show finally did end with Martin’s comedy song, King Tut.
Martin brings the five string banjo and it’s music to a wide audience, may of whom have never seen bluegrass or old time band play. I happen to believe that the wider exposure is a boost to the great music that I love. A wonderful evening, I am glad we had the opportunity to attend.