Monday, October 19, 2009

Nashville: Day Three - An Evening With Steve Martin and Friends

I want a banjo.

That's what I've deducted after catching Steve Martin (yes, the same Steve Martin who did stand up with an arrow through his head some years ago) in concert at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium last Sunday.

I'm pretty clueless when it comes to Bluegrass. If it wasn't on the O'Brother What Art Thou soundtrack I probably don't know it. Mixing comedy with some great music, Martin showed the crowd that he truly is an entertainment genius. Even more impressive was how he stepped back and let his backup band, The Steep Canyon Rangers, own much of the musical portions of the show. A few other friends also stopped by for a song or two.

I was a little concerned when I found my seat. When I bought it, I figured being on the floor in the dead center of the stage would be a good thing. Normally it's not. And while my seat wasn't horrible, the balcony at the Ryman hangs very low so much of my peripheral vision was the low ceiling of sorts above me.

The seats were hard wooden pews. Between that and the stained glass windows that were a mere walkway behind me, I should have expected a religous experience from the evening. While not quite that powerful, I do have to say that it inspired me to wanting to play a banjo and becoming a musical storyteller for my future grandkids. So maybe I'm thinking 20 years in advance but at the rate I expect to learn an instrument, that's how long I'm going to need.

The evening began with John McEuen, one of the founding members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Whether he was on the banjo, guitar or fiddle, McEuen played the role of master storyteller, warming the audience up with jokes and winning their hearts with stories of country music legends.

After McEuen finished his set and a crew had a chance to ready the stage with a couple of posters and hook up the cameras as the main event of the evening was apparently being recorded for a TV special. As Martin hit the stage I realized that he hasn't aged much since I first became a fan as he hung with the Muppets. But then I had a second realization and that was that he probably aged young and is only now looking his age.

As you'd expect, Martin cracked a couple of jokes and set up some more before breaking into the first part of his set. When I was going to pick up my tickets this afternoon, a group was coming out of the auditorium and one person mentioned the concert to their friend. The friend had a hard time accepting the idea of Martin as a musician and immediately began recalling choice movie clips that are now 25 years old. I was greeted with similar hesitations from people when I told them how excited I was to see Steve Martin in concert. While I would've been disappointed if he didn't include some gags in his show, I wasn't concerned. Funny people are funny in any situation.Martin is a performer. Laughs were a guarantee.

He's also a damn fine picker on the banjo as well. I'm not going to pretend to understand the mechanics of playing, but he sounded great as he played songs that were original to him all the way until the encore where he brought out leagend Earl Scruggs.

While Martin is a standout banjo player, he still let the Steep Canyon Rangers shine. More often than not, Martin was happy to step aside and let the youthful group of five take the spotlight. Winners of the "Emerging Artist of the Year Award" at the 2006 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, the band brings a happy sound that felt both traditional and modern to me. They're multi-talented too. Before the show began I went to check out the souvenirs where Rangers fiddle player Nicky Sanders was covering. He seemed a little flustered seeing as how his chance to psyche himself up was being spent selling T-shirts and explaining that the autographed Steve Martin posters were on their way.

All-in-all, seeing Steve Martin live was a big highlight of my trip. He's been a legend on the screen that I've looked up to my entire life. To see him live, even if not in the environment that I'm used to seeing him, is something I'll never forget.

And, yes there is a card tie-in here. Martin had an autograph card in Inkworks' Looney Tunes: Back in Action set from 1993. It's a pretty horrible picture of him, but nonetheless it's a reasonably priced autograph of one of a generation's most popular actors. The card used to sell consistently in the $50-60 range but since the release of Razor's Ink Vault and Ink Archives sets, the card can now be found for about half that if you look hard enough.


Rod said...

you should have a package waiting for you when you get home.

White Sox Cards said...

I love Steve Martin! I'm not sure why this venture took so long. His last "comedy" album featured nothing but instrumentals on the second side.

He is a self taught banjo player, who shines playing in his own unique way. I wanted to go to his Chicago concert, but I couldn't afford the tickets. I'm glad that the show was taped. Hopefully, there will be a video release at some point.

If you haven't already, read his books. You won't regret it!