Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, at the Fifth Annual Mountain Song Festival in Brevard, N.C.; September 2010. Courtesy of www.steepcanyon.com
Playing for two hours and receiving three standing ovations, well-known comedian and banjo player extraordinaire Steve Martin was more than a huge hit Tuesday night. He wowed a packed-out crowd at The Tennessee Theatre, performing all of his own music and showcasing the remarkable talents of the Steep Canyon Rangers.
“I know this is strange,” he told the crowd. He compared his banjo tour to waking up and discovering that Jerry Seinfeld had just embarked on a bassoon tour. “That’s a must-see,” he chided.
Martin played tunes from both of his albums (“Rare Bird Alert,” a joint effort with the Rangers, and “The Crow”), including “Daddy Played the Banjo,” “Go Away, Stop, Turn Around, Come Back,” “The Crow,” “Rare Bird Alert,” “Yellow-Backed Fly” and “Jubilation Day.” He switched out playing four different banjos and left the stage briefly to allow the Rangers to spill out all of their brilliancy.
This seasoned entertainer and Grammy winner kept the audience engaged the entire two hours, drifting back and forth between the humor he is known for and the bigger-than-life talent on the banjo some are only discovering. He has been playing the instrument since the age of 16. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were early influencers.
The repertoire on Tuesday night was a mix of bone-tickling fun with the offering of “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” and one number about Martin’s own dog, Wally, called “Wally on the Run.” One song Martin wrote from the viewpoint of Paul Revere’s horse, entitled “Me and Paul Revere,” will be performed by Martin at the Fourth of July celebration in Washington, D.C. He gave Knoxvillians a taste on Tuesday night.
The Steep Canyon Rangers received their most rousing applause for the a cappella rendition of “I Can’t Sit Down.” At one point in the performance Martin told the audience, “I am doing two of my favorite things — stand-up comedy and charging people for music.”
Those there to see if Martin still had it comedically weren’t disappointed. Those who were there to see if this comedian could really tease the banjo strings shook their heads in amazement. In the encore, Martin and the Rangers played a couple of teasers before bringing down the house with their magical take on “Orange Blossom Special.” And the audience refused to leave without hearing Martin’s best “King Tut,” bluegrass style.
He left everyone wanting more.
— Melanie Tucker, The Daily Times