TO Jazz Fest: Steve Martin w/ The Steep Canyon Rangers and Edie Brickell @ Nathan Philips Square – June 29, 2013

July 4, 2013 No comments
Written by Wini Lo

Photos by Aviva Cohen


Steve Martin – actor, comedian, writer, banjo player and singer. Wait, banjo player? Singer?! Yes, really. In 2009, Martin released an album called The Crow, and has been playing banjo since he was a teenager.  He went on to collaborate with North Carolina-based bluegrass band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, on 2011’s Rare Bird Alert.

Closing out the 10-day Toronto Jazz Festival on the Nathan Phillips Square stage, the sold-out show was supported by Toronto-based bluegrass quartet Slocan Ramblers. The young foursome (banjo, mandolin, guitar and stand-up bass) roused the crowd with their toe-tapping tunes and was met with loud cheers and applause.

The cheers and applauses got louder once the Steep Canyon Rangers took the stage, and finally, Steve Martin. Movie star status aside, Martin played banjo like a skilled musician rightfully deserving accolades (and he has Grammys to prove it!). Between every song, Steve Martin the joker and comedian presided. He poked fun at the members of the Rangers – of lead singer Woody Platt’s name, Martin asked, “Is that even your real name? Every night I introduce you, I wonder if it’s real. Woody Platt, the bluegrass singer. Sounds too perfect. I bet you got it from the ‘Bluegrass Singer Name Generator’ website…”

After several songs in, Martin introduced singer/songwriter Edie Brickell to the stage. Brickell, best known for “What I Am,” with her band Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians in the late 80’s, recently released a collaborative album with Steve Martin called, Love Has Come For You.

In her introductions for most songs, Brickell is evidently a songwriter who draws upon personal experience, but also random happenstance. For the song “Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby,” Brickell recalled the instrumental banjo tune Martin had sent to her. “I kept singing ‘Woo-woo!’ which reminded me of a train,” she said. After searching Google for American historical stories about trains, she found herself inspired by a story of a man who found an abandoned baby on a train. “His wife’s name was Sarah Jane. I can’t deny my luck that ‘Sarah Jane’ rhymes with ‘train’!” she laughed, before launching into the song with Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers.

Highlights of the show included original Steve Martin-penned songs such as, “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” (a lament for how different religions have worship songs, but not atheists), “Jubilation Day” (the elation of ending a relationship with a terrible person) and “Pretty Little One,” a new song sung with Edie Brickell (a murder ballad with a twist). Though the songs are in a traditional folk/bluegrass style, a careful listen to the lyrics show Martin’s wry, sharp humour.

The closing show-stealer was Nicky Sanders, fiddle player of the Steep Canyon Rangers. “Auden’s Train” featured a repeated train-like sequence from Sander’s fiddle, with extended periods in the song that demonstrated his virtuosic ability. He inserted a bar or two of recognizable songs, which drew cheers of appreciation, including “Norwegian Wood” (by the Beatles), “O Canada,” the Simpsons’ theme and “Ode to Joy.”

For the encore, Martin joked that the word “encore” means, “You have not satisfied us. Please play more, so we can get our money’s worth,” in French. After several more songs, the crowd applauded, cheered and stood up in appreciation. Even before the encore set, I’d say that the crowd wasn’t so much unsatisfied, but wished it could go on forever.


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