Bluegrass is a serious business. Representing high and lonesome requires technical prowess as well as upholding some of the traditional values woven into the fabric of the music. Bluegrass icons are often patriarchs, worshiped as deities by scores of fans. So how does a guy who used to perform on banjo with a fake arrow piercing his head get to be an elder statesman of bluegrass? Practice, talent, and a great sense of humor have propelled Steve Martin to bluegrass royalty. He won a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance in 2002 with banjo god Earl Scruggs and another in 2009 for Best Bluegrass Album for The Crow: New Songs For the 5-String Banjo.
Martin has also been instrumental in giving a hand up to North Carolina's Steep Canyon Rangers, touring and recording with them as his backing band.
"We knew Steve's wife, Ann, before they ever met," Rangers mandolinist Mike Guggino says, speaking from the Rangers' tour bus. "When we would go to New York and play shows, we used to crash on the floor in her apartment. She started dating Steve Martin, brought him to N.C. and eventually they were getting married. We ended up playing music with him in N.C., and inviting him to one of our shows in NYC when he put out The Crow. He was ready to tour, needed a band, and we just happened to be the only band he knew. Luck of the draw."
But last year, Martin added another dimension to the collective's fifty-show tour with the addition of comedian/actor Martin Short.
"Used to be, when we were touring with Steve, it was Steve and the Rangers and it was a music show," Guggino says. "Then we added Edie Brickell, and it was still a music show, but there was still a lot of comedy. Now, it's a comedy show with a little bit of music."
Guggino says that despite Martin dropping his bluegrass version of "King Tut" and "Atheists Don't Have No Songs" from the show, Short's characters, including uber-nerd Ed Grimley appear, with Martin and Short trading comedy licks and solo songs. Martin will also perform some songs with the Rangers for the two-hour show.
Funny as it all is, Guggino says Martin's dedication to the music shines through. "He loves playing the banjo and writing songs. That's about his favorite thing in the world." —Grant Britt