Families and bluegrass lovers alike gathered at the Hollywood Bowl to see Steve Martin, The Steep Canyon Rangers, and Edie Brickell perform their July 4th weekend show. The LA Philharmonic, which began the first part of the show, started the night out with a bang. Our national anthem resonated through the venue as fireworks lit up the sky. Afterwards, charismatic conductor John Morris Russell greeted the crowd and wished America a happy birthday. Speckled with stars and stripes, the Hollywood Bowl seemed to be the perfect place for an all-American picnic as Russell led the orchestra through a patriotic series of songs. A few pieces featured were Patrick Doyle’s epic theme song from the movie Thor and the armed forces medley “Proud to Serve.” To add a little extra strength and heroism to the theme song for Thor, The U.S. Armed Forces Band of the Golden West was invited to play alongside the LA Philharmonic and they were warmly welcomed by the crowd. During “Proud to Serve” the men and women who have served in the armed forces were asked to stand so that they could be recognized and applauded by the crowd. There was no shortage of enthusiasm at this point in the performance. Cheers erupted throughout the five-part medley as the local heroes rose and waved. The orchestra finished the first half of the night with “God Bless America” urging everyone to sing along.
The sun was beginning to set on the open-air theater as Steve Martin took the stage, banjo in hand accompanied by The Steep Canyon Rangers. Humor and playfulness were to be the themes of his set as his performance was a combination of stand-up comedy and bluegrass. He began by talking about how much he enjoyed touring the country and playing in “honky tonks.” His fellow bandmates seemed inured to his jokes as he introduced each one and then immediately teased them or denied them a chance to speak. Laughter rumbled through the audience after each silly intro. The comedy continued with him referring to his first song as a sing-along- without words and then proceeded to wish the crowd good luck with it. It was called “Track #7.” Next up was the hilarious break-up song “Jubilation Day.” Martin explained that sometimes a break-up is the best thing could ever happen to you. He sang lyrics like “I’ll be over you by lunch time” and there were moments in which he would just loudly sigh with the music giving off the perfect characterization of an exasperated ex-lover.
After playing “The Crow” which features an impressive banjo harmony between Martin and banjo player Graham Sharp, the talented Edie Brickell was asked to join in on the fun. The collaboration between Martin and Brickell has earned them a Grammy and has also led to the creation of a musical that is to open in the next few months. The pieces in which Brickell are featured have a hint of bluegrass, but are by no means traditional. She provided simple, contemporary lyrics to Martin’s vintage, country melodies and together they created what has been called an unorthodox album, Love Has Come for You. Songs such as “Get Along Stray Dog” and “Yes She Did” allow for Brickell’s soft voice and country charm to take the spotlight. Both are upbeat and offer a sort of jolliness in sound, though “Yes She Did” is actually about suicide or rather gossiping about a suicide. The contrast between melody and lyrics in the song became a funny little anecdote in the show. “Yes She Did” is also one of the only actual duets with Martin and Brickell, as Brickell usually takes the lead vocally in their collaborations, but on this track the two shared a mic cooing “yes she did, yes she did.” Martin then played a solo dedicated to folk singer and activist Pete Seeger called “Gentleman Pete.” He was alone on stage for this part of the show making it seem as though it were a more serious, intimate piece. That being said, he ended up alone on stage because he told the audience that they had all made an agreement that when performing together stopped being fun, they would stop doing it. The other band members then promptly exited the stage.
“When You Get to Asheville” and “Remember me this Way” were the slower songs of the evening sweeping in with sweet, sincere lyrics and calming melodies perfect for a warm summer night. A new song was presented as well. It was a “murder ballad,” as Martin called it, titled “Pretty Little One.” It told the story of a relationship between a possessive and dangerous man and a smart, gutsy woman. It was a bit terrifying to follow the story at first especially because the high-energy sound of the music seemed to mask the underlying theme of murder in the song, but all was well in the end. The Grammy award-winning track “Love Has Come for You” was played next which features a character study of a woman who has a child by a married man and chooses to keep it. The banjo is prominent, but not overbearing in the song and Brickell’s voice cradles the story so well it is easy to why they won for Best American Roots Song.
The end of the evening was marked by grandeur. First, Steve Martin, The Steep Canyon Rangers, and Edie Brickell played a song based on a poem by W.H. Auden called “Auden’s Train” in which Nicky Sanders absolutely blew away the audience with his skills on the violin. Not only did he imitate sounds of a train, but he also paid homage to classic songs such as “America, The Beautiful” while displaying his incredible musical talent for a jaw-dropping amount of time. He and his fiddle earned hoots and hollers from a pleasantly surprised crowd. A standing ovation was in order for all the performers on stage and Martin and Brickell both curtsied in appreciation. Then the Hollywood Bowl fireworks spectacular began complete with a fiery green statue of liberty and the stage lit up to look like a giant circular American flag. Martin and his bandmates finished the whole event with the song “Me and Paul Revere” which tells the story of Paul Revere’s horse. Like most of the show it was funny, highly enjoyable, and patriotic.
Set List for Steve Martin, The Steep Canyon Rangers, and Edie Brickell:
Daddy Played the Banjo
Get Along Stray Dog
When You Get to Asheville
Yes She Did
Remember me this Way
Sun’s Gonna Shine
Pretty Little One
Love Has Come for You
Me and Paul Revere