Sunday, November 01, 2009

An evening with Steve and his banjo

A night of music, comedy, and even a little bit of Chinese feminism. This is what fans who attended Steve Martin's first public performance in years at the Walt Disney Concert Hall were treated to last week. I'm more familiar with his comedy, admittedly, but thanks to my husband, was highly interested in his banjo skills. And I must say, "WOW!" That man is just as talented on his banjo as he is with his wit and humor. And he surrounds himself with equally talented musicians.

The tour supports Martin's first full-length bluegrass album, "The Crow." The CD has been nominated for several awards and is critically acclaimed. After seeing and hearing his performance, I can understand why. (In fact, we walked away with our own copy of "The Crow.")

The evening opened with the beautiful Abigail Washburn. "Thank you, God, for making Steve Martin a banjo man," she said as she began her set. And that was how the night went. A little bit of good humor mixed with beautiful, spirited and soulful music which included standard bluegrass and original tunes. The most interesting piece of her set must have been the bluegrass import of sorts- a Chinese feminist piece which Ms. Washburn performed entirely in Mandarin. It was a moment that expanded my somewhat limited world. I had no idea that Chinese music included the banjo, but thoroughly enjoyed this performance and appreciated how it opened my mind just a little bit more.

Following Abigail was Steve Martin with the Steep Canyon Rangers. The crowd enthusiastically welcomed back to the stage the great comedian. And then, the music started. The show they gave was one of the best I've ever experienced musically. The chemistry between the Steep Canyon Rangers and Martin was so apparent. There was much respect for one another's talents, and they truly enjoyed playing together. Pardon the cliche, but it was really a "toe-tappin' good time."

A few jokes were sprinkled throughout the evening. At one point, when the SCR took on the spotlight for a moment, Steve asked the bass player if there was a beer for him. And sure enough, there was...stored inside the bass itself. It was evident this is how these guys roll. Pure fun and entertainment.

Like Abigail's set, Steve performed some standards, including the energetic classic "Orange Blossom Special," which had me at the edge of my seat. I watched in awe as the bands fingers' flew so effortlessly and intelligently across the strings of their respective instruments. I was impressed at how easy Steve made playing the banjo appear. I was inspired by the violinist to get out my own fiddle and learn "Orange Blossom Special" (which, Steve decided that evening, was written by him). The night ended with a playful, bluegrass rendition of Martin's "King Tut." Then the crowd rose to thank Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers for the musical treat we were given.

This was my first live bluegrass concert experience, and certainly will not be my last. I walked in with an eagerness and lack of expectation. I walked away with a whole new appreciation for bluegrass music, and for the banjo as an instrument of not only fast-paced and lively music, but also an instrument of calm, sorrow and peace. With that, I leave you with a little bit of "King Tut."


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