While the Benaroya Hall is only a 12 year old facility, you’d never know it when inside the gorgeous acoustical wood-laden home to the Seattle Symphony. With a max capacity of 2500, the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the larger of two Auditoriums within the facility, was packed to near capacity Tuesday November 3, 2009 as actor/comedian/musician Steve Martin played “An evening of Banjo and Bluegrass” with the noted bluegrass quintet Steep Canyon Rangers, one of the top bluegrass bands currently touring the country.
The show was in support of Steve Martin’s bluegrass album New Songs For The Five String Banjo. While some might have expected the show to be seriously about music, make no mistake about it, Steve Martin was insanely funny too. His interactions with the Steep Canyon Rangers was incredible as well as the band kept up with Martin’s fast-paced mind and quips. One story Steve told was how he met the Rangers, “In reality I met the Rangers at a party in North Carolina. In Hollywood, I have to say I met them in rehab.” Intermixed with the hilarious quips were most of the songs from the album, including “Daddy Played Banjo,” “Clawhammer Medley” and “Wally On The Run,” Which Steve said was inspired by Flatt & Scruggs banjo/fiddle songs and is played with Nicky Sanders of the Steep Canyon Rangers.
There were times where Steve quipped “This is a song. Well, that’s exactly what it is” and then played the song. Another time he said “The next song is a sing-a-long, but there are no lyrics, so good luck.”
This stately 90 minute set included an interlude where Steve left the stage so that the Rangers could sing a couple of their own tunes in “Lovin’ Pretty Women,” “There Ain’t No Easy Street” and the a cappella hymn “Sylvie.” The latter two tunes are from their latest album Deep In The Shade. Steve Martin returned to the stage about this time where he told a story about there not being any hymns for atheists so he wrote one for them and proceeded to hand lyric sheets to the Rangers, who obviously had rehearst this “atheist’s hymn” bit. It was just part of the comedy of the night that made this truly one of the best shows I have ever been to.
One of the two encores found Steve and the Rangers doing a truly great bluegrass work-up of the classic 1978 skit and novelty hit “King TuT.” The other encore featured a truly stellar rendition of the classic Bluegrass song Orange Blossom Special which allowed Nicky Sanders the chance to show-off his considerable skills.
If Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers are scheduled to come to your area, you need to go to it, particularly if you enjoy comedy and banjo music. Steve quipped during one of the encores, “Even I know there’s only so much banjo music one can listen to.” That may be true Steve, but when your humor is added to the equation along with playing great rooms like those at the Benaroya Hall, the show is an unparalleled success.