While it may be disingenuous to say that the Steep Canyon Rangers stole the show from Steve Martin last Sunday night, there were moments in which it was easy to forget that one of the players on stage was a world-famous actor/writer/comedian. The Rangers are one of the most acclaimed contemporary bluegrass bands on the scene, and it says an awful lot about Martin's banjo playing that he was able to keep up with them.
Hell, he did more than keep up. Switching effortlessly from the Scruggs three-finger style of picking to the less common clawhammer style, and selecting from five banjos lined up at the back of the stage, depending on what a particular song called for, Martin fit right in with the rest of the band, and took a solo turn as well. He was also graceful enough to give up the spotlight at all the right moments to let individual band members shine, even exiting the stage entirely for a pair of songs.
But the audience no doubt plunked its money down to see Martin, and it seemed no one left the two-hour show disappointed. Martin sang lead on only a song or two, most notably on "Jubilation Day"—the majority of songs performed were instrumentals, and most of the vocals were handled by guitarist Woody Platt or sung in harmony—but his between-song banter left no one wanting. Let's not forget that Martin made his name as a stand-up, and it was easy to remember why: He's a naturally funny guy with impeccable comic timing, a talent that was on full display at the Fox.
Whether he was joking that Woody Platt was, indeed, the guitarist's real name (as opposed to the product of an online "bluegrass name generator"); explaining that the Steep Canyon Rangers were not his band, but that he was "their celebrity"; or telling the audience, "If you're not enjoying the show, you're wrong," he kept the mood light for the performance's duration.
The evening's other MVP was fiddler Nicky Sanders, whose playing throughout was astounding, especially on the final song of the night, an extended, breakneck version of "Orange Blossom Special"—the night's only cover song—during which he quoted from everything from "Norwegian Wood" and the 1812 Overture to the theme from The Simpsons.