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Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeWhile Steve Martin has been using the banjo in his comedy routines since the 70s, his performance at the Pabst Theatre featured the well-known actor/comedian on "serious banjo" with some seriously talented musicians, The Steep Canyon Rangers. Right off the bat, however, Martin let the crowd know the show wouldn't be entirely serious as he heckled a few late arrivers and joked with the band and crowd in between almost every song.
Touring in support of his Grammy-winning 2009 album The Crow, Martin was joined by the Steep Canyon Rangers, a quintet from North Carolina featuring the bluegrass staples of guitar, mandolin, fiddle, upright bass and banjo. From their hand-offs of solos in the opening "Pitkin County Turnaround" to their four-part harmonies in a spiritual later in the show, it was clear Martin had surrounded himself with great musicians, and as the night went on, Martin's banjo playing proved to hold up- even though musing after one song that banjo player Graham Sharp's banjo solo was maybe a bit too good.
While animated in his comedic mode, Martin was intently focused, sometimes to the point of looking uncomfortable, on the banjo during songs like "Daddy Played the Banjo" and "Freddie's Lilt," while noticeably more loose during the lighthearted "Wally on the Run" and his own version of a spiritual for atheists. An encore performance of "Orange Blossom Special" had feet stomping throughout the venue, and after incorporating the banjo into his comedic "King Tut" song, originally backed by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Martin left the crowd laughing but also with a new-found respect for his musicianship.
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