Framed by long curtains and facing a crowd of about 2,000, Steve Martin said he enjoyed playing bluegrass “at road-side honkytonks” like the Bryce Jordan Center.
The crowd roared with laughter, something that would be as common as applause throughout the evening on Sunday. Despite being an incredibly talented banjo player and backed by an accomplished bluegrass band, it was foolish to think Martin’s show would be comedy-free. He plucked hilarious zingers between songs poking fun at his music, his band and himself.
“This next song is a sing-along,” Martin said. “But it has no words. So, good luck.”
Dressed in his trademark white suit, Martin channeled both his impeccable comedic timing and musical mastery alongside the Steep Canyon Rangers. Adding to his musical all-star team, Edie Brickell came on stage early on in the evening.
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Like a variety show, the performance featured instrumentals, funny stage banter, a cappella songs and full-band jam sessions. In classic bluegrass form, the play list included murder ballads, religious tunes and songs about trains. Martin said there needs to be at least six songs about trains at any bluegrass performance.
Crowd-pleasers included “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs,” a hilarious harmony-filled jam about the “religion’s” one-page hymnal. Songs about the bright side of breaking up and a murder gone wrong also had the audience laughing, clapping and stomping its feet.
In a blue dress and high, brown leather boots, Brickell shared her whispery-soft Texas-style vocals on a handful of songs from “Love Has Come for You,” the record she and Martin released earlier this year.
The pair shared the stories behind some of the tracks from the album, which was pieced together through email. Martin sent banjo instrumentals, and Brickell replied with full songs that would eventually become “Love Has Come for You.”
“I sent her fun a little banjo tune, and she sent back a song about suicide,” Martin said about “Yes She Did.”
There was no shortage of laughter, but it didn’t overshadow the talents of each musician on stage, a group that Martin compared to a “string quartet.” The North Carolina-based Rangers have backed Martin for three albums, including 2009’s Grammy-winning “The Crow.”
A standing ovation brought Martin and crew back to the stage after a raucous finale that featured an epic performance from fiddle player Nicky Sanders. The team finished the night with a song that introduced Martin to the banjo 50 years ago, “Fiddle and Banjo” by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
One by one, each member of the Rangers and Brickell joined Martin on stage. The tune once again showcased the musical prowess of each person on the BJC stage. The last song of the evening was “Pour Me Another Around,” a drinking song written by Brickell.
“It’s been a pleasure performing for your cellphones tonight,” said Martin waving to the crowd. “Thank you.”