Steve Martin is one wild and crazy bluegrass musician

Steve Martin yuks it up at the Mirage.
Photo: Justin M. Bowen

Steve Martin is a really good banjo player. He’s not “really good for a comedian” or “really good for a celebrity”; he’s really good, period. And he’s an even better songwriter.

“Last year, I walked away with the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album,” Martin says. “And later on, I found out that I won it.”

That joke came from Martin’s Saturday night performance at the Mirage. The event was billed as “An Evening of Music and Comedy” with Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers. So the question on everyone’s mind was: How much comedy will there be?

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

The answer: quite a bit. But the music got the bigger reception. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes were hilarious and well received, but the music was spectacularly joyous. Martin alternated between songs and comedy monologues, so if you’d seen the show without knowing who he was, you’d have walked away thinking, “If the music thing doesn’t work out for these guys, that banjoist might have a future in stand-up.”

Humor highlights included, “Last time I played Las Vegas was 32 years ago, so there are a lot of familiar faces in the crowd,” and “A lot of people say to me: ‘Why music? Why now?’ And I say, ‘Come on guys, you’re my band.’” Music highlights included “Rare Bird Alert” (the title track from Martin’s new album), “Daddy Played the Banjo” (from the old album, featuring Steep Canyon lead singer Woody Platt), and “Orange Blossom Special” (featuring Steep Canyon fiddle player Nicky Sanders, who, under any other circumstance, would have stolen the show).

Martin ended the night with “King Tut” and the joke, “I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to us as much as I’ve enjoyed finger-syncing to the CD playing backstage.”

Half an hour after the show, Martin went to the poker room ... and sat down at the 3/6 limit game in which I was playing. “Usually I play the $5,000/$10,000 game,” he joked.

I told him I don’t usually listen to bluegrass music but I loved his show. He asked if it was at all tough to sit through a two-hour performance of a musical genre with which I’m unfamiliar, but before I could answer, the poker room supervisor came over to our table and told him that his 1/2 no-limit seat was ready.

He’d played only two hands before he left, and he won one of them. Is there anything the guy doesn’t do well?


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