By Sandy Harris for Eugene Daily News
This last Wednesday, Grammy-award winning comedian Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers performed a sold-out concert at Eugene’s Cuthbert Amphitheater. When Martin led the group on stage, the crowd went wild. Martin made sure to point out the white color of his pants, as contrasted with the other performers’ suits and ties. They are a sophisticated and handsome group of men.
The Steep Canyon Rangers are a bluegrass band from North Carolina. Voted bluegrass entertainers of the year, they have played on the lawn of the White House for the President of the United States. Even if you never heard bluegrass music before, this concert had the power to turn anyone into an ardent fan.
Martin introduced each member of the band, leading with comedic flairs. He introduced Charles R. Humphrey lll on Bass, which, according to Martin, is nice to have on tour as “it doubles as a refrigerator.” Next were Graham Sharp on banjo, Woody Platt on guitar, Nicky Sanders on fiddle (an instrument he has played since he was five years old), and then Michael Guggino on the mandolin.
After a few songs, Martin took a short break. As he left the stage, Humphrey opened up a secret compartment on the front of the bass and handed him a beer. The crowd loved it.
“I Can’t Sit Down,” a beautiful song about Heaven, moved the crowd to major applause. The quartet of banjo, fiddle, guitar and mandolin came together in perfect harmony and the singing was incredible. After this performance, Martin came back on stage and they all sang “Atheists Have No Songs” — a fun song, full of comedy.
The house was packed with barely any room to stand. At 7 pm, when the concert was scheduled to start, it was 91 degrees. Attendees did whatever they could to stay cool in the summer heat. As the sun beat down on them, Martin humorously asked the audience who had the best sunburn.
The Rangers left the stage as Martin played “The Great Remember,” a song he wrote and performed in honor of his deceased friend Nancy. Platt, the guitar player, talked about how playing music makes him feel. He said,
“It feels good for a lot of reasons. It’s really fun to have that kind of team work. There are distinctive rolls for each member. There’s a joy when it all comes together and a kind of pride carrying on a tradition. You feel great when you entertain an audience, bringing music to people that they can genuinely enjoy [and] knowing it enriches lives.”
As the band finished the evening, they received a standing ovation from the crowd. It felt like a privilege to be a part of the experience. The warmth of the staff and volunteers at the Cuthbert added to the entire experience as well. They were helpful, kind and knowledgeable. Despite the heat, they always had smiles on their faces.
I went to the concert with the intention of finding a good story. After hearing Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers play and entertain the audience, all while braving the summer heat, what I found was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and joy.
And I found a story, too — a story of musicians bringing together their phenomenal talents and becoming one amazing act.