Steve Martin, actor, comedian, author, playwright, producer, and musician (take your pick of his many skills), has been strumming, plucking, and picking the banjo for over 45 years.The now 67-year-old Grammy Award winner’s show at Wolf Trap, unsurprisingly, was sold out. Screaming fans clapped, laughed, and cheered through the performance with his collaborators, the Steep Canyon Rangers. The performance also featured the notable Edie Brickell on vocals, with whom he recently collaborated on a new album, Love Has Come For You. The show featured both older and newer tunes.
Martin got his start in comedy writing for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and eventually made his way over to stand-up comedy. A regular on Saturday Night Live, you may remember his more recent appearance on the show as a member of the Five-Timers Club. Martin has also starred in numerous movies (The Jerk, Three Amigos, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, just to name a few), penned many books (including Shopgirl, An Object of Beauty, and a memoir), and has established an award for recognizing outstanding accomplishments in 5-string banjo or bluegrass music (the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass). You could say he has a lot going on.
Being on the road, playing banjo, it seems, is his current joie de vivre. In the liner notes to his album The Crow he referred to his instrument as a “geometrically beautiful object, a circle with a stick attached, four strings running up to its end, and a droning fifth string stopping halfway up the neck. It shouldn’t be playable, but it is.” Martin is clearly gifted and talented in many ways; his playing is absolutely phenomenal, and his humor shone throughout the performance. During his tuning breaks (those banjos are finicky in humidity!), he explained how the electric tuner on his banjo allowed him to also check his email and watch Game of Thrones. The audience loved it.
Martin started playing with the uber talented Steep Canyon Rangers a few years ago, and has written of the band, “Serendipity had made a better match than any bluegrass computer dating service.” He couldn’t have put it more perfectly. The group dynamics and textures were top-notch, especially fiddler Nicky Sanders. He was on fire—I wouldn’t have been surprised to see sparks emit from his bow—and one of the highlights of the evening.
What makes his Love Has Come For You album particularly interesting is the fact that Martin and Brickell collaborated on the album via email, with Martin sending her the banjo parts, and Brickell listening to them and creating lyrics as she listened on the spot. Her quirky lyrics, sunny presence, and raspy voice nicely rounded out the show with the Steep Canyon Rangers.
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell played on June 24, 2013 at The Filene Center at Wolf Trap – Filene Center, 1551 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For future Wolf Trap events, check their calendar of events.