Steep Canyon Rangers fill the Hollywood Bowl with bluegrass over the next three evenings. (Jacob Blickenstaff)
To a lot of folks in the mainstream, bluegrass is not a genre that is often thought about. It is stereotypically associated with bearded men in the mountains who can play the banjo while singing in a twang unknown to us in SoCal. If you were to look at the musicians today who are coming out of the bluegrass scene, not only would you be confused by the lack of stereotypical mountain men in overalls, but you would also be intrigued by the coolness that is coming off of them. Bluegrass is having a hip resurgence with Steve Martin, Steep Canyon Rangers and Edie Brickell at the helm.
Hailing from North Carolina, the Steep Canyon Rangers offer traditional yet modern bluegrass. Their music explores the time-honored themes of day-to-day life, from the home/log cabin you live in to love and relationships.
Over the next three nights, Martin is joining them to add his banjo playing to the mix for special Fourth of July celebration shows, complete with fireworks, at the Hollywood Bowl. After meeting each other in 2009 after a taping of “A Prairie Home Companion,” Martin and Steep Canyon Rangers embarked on a two-month U.S. tour together.
This current tour, however, features one more addition, Brickell (previously known as the frontwoman of the New Bohemians). She and Martin released an album together, Love Has Come For You, in April of 2013.
Bluegrass fans, or “grassholes” as the are affectionately known, are going to be pleasantly surprised by the Los Angeles Philharmonic backing the artists. Graham Sharp, who provides banjo and lead/harmony vocals to Steep Canyon Rangers, is most definitely awed by the experience.
“You hear all of the parts you are used to hearing being backed by an entire section of French horns or violas. It’s this big wall of music behind you; it’s pretty amazing,” he admits. “It’s a very different experience for us. From being on stage with the six, seven or eight of us, then adding 60 more people … it’s pretty awesome.”
The inclusion of Martin in the bluegrass scene has solidified the ever-growing popularity of the genre. The acting and comedy legend has been a lifetime bluegrass aficionado, who began playing banjo at the age of 17. In 2009, Martin released his first all-music album, The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo. The effort won a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album. He created the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, an award established to reward artistry and bring greater visibility to bluegrass performers.
Sharp believes that Martin is not only making himself and the Steep Canyon Rangers more popular, but the genre in general.
“He has introduced a larger audience to bluegrass. We have been a part of [it] and benefitted from being associated with Steve,” he says. “A lot of other bands have also benefitted just from his popularity.”
Martin isn’t the only actor to be vocal about his love of the genre. Ed Helms has put on the Bluegrass Situation Festival, as well as shows at the Largo at the Coronet, which Steep Canyon Rangers have previously played.
The beauty of bluegrass is that it can conjure up a spirit of a different time, while singing to us in lyrics that tell exactly how an audience feels. The atmosphere that is created by the musical genre is purely American. And hey, if Steve Martin digs it, then so should you.
In addition to the July 2, 3 and 4 shows at the Hollywood Bowl with Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Steep Canyon Rangers headline the Roxy Theatre Aug. 30.
What: Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell
Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles 90068
When: Wednesday, July 2; Thursday, July 3; Friday, July 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Contact: (323) 850-2000 or Ticketmaster.com