Nearly everyone is familiar with Steve Martin’s work as a comedian, actor, best-selling author and as one of “Saturday Night Live’s” favorite guest hosts.
Now, fans will have the chance to see yet another facet of Martin’s amazing talents – bluegrass banjo player extraordinaire.
Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers, themselves a chart-topping bluegrass band from North Carolina, are set to perform at 8 p.m. on August 24 at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula.
The Rangers and Martin are hot right now, having collaborated on their first CD together via the 2011 release “Rare Bird Alert,” which hit #1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass chart and even topped out at #43 on the Billboard Top 200.
When asked how the tour has been going so far, Rangers’ vocalist/guitarist Woody Platt left no doubt of his opinion: “It’s been spectacular!”
The Rangers and Steve connected back in 2008 through Martin’s wife, writer Anne Stringfield, who was a huge fan and friend of the band.
“She used to let us stay at her place in New York when we were on tour,” Platt said.
Stringfield introduced her banjo-playing husband to the progressive bluegrass band. They jammed together and a partnership emerged.
“It just clicked,” said Platt. “Steve trusts us that we know how to perform as a cohesive band. He has confidence in our stage show and playing. And at the same time, we’ve learned a lot from Steve simply by watching him entertain a crowd. He’s one of the greatest entertainers ever.”
Pechanga’s audience will be treated to not just great bluegrass music, but also a heavy dose of comedy sliced in between the songs. Think along the lines of “A Prairie Home Companion” stage performance with Steve’s quirky and witty comedic style leading the way.
When asked if Martin’s quick, improvisational style keeps the band on their toes night after night, Woody explained: “We’re a well-oiled machine on stage, so there aren’t too many surprises. But there are a few audibles here and there.”
For music aficionados, the Rangers’ style of “neo-traditional bluegrass” is matched by an Appalachian sound that tends to venture into a progressive “newgrass” territory.
Sure, they’ve been influenced by traditional bluegrass stalwarts like Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, and Bill Monroe, but you’ll find a little Jerry Garcia (his banjo playing is prevalent), Crosby, Stills & Nash (the Rangers’ harmonies are second-to-none), and a Chapel Hill, NC indie rock aesthetic that comes across when playing live.
These guys learned — and earned — their chops in small rock clubs around the University of North Carolina, not just by playing bluegrass festivals, state fairs and church events.
If you love American roots music coupled with sly, witty comedy with one of the most talented performers of our generation, then the Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers concert is a must-see.
Chris Baptiste is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.