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Steve Martin/Edie Brickell blend of music and comedy leaves this father/daughter critic team in stitches

By Tobi Cohen on June 25, 2014

Post by Tobi and Terence Cohen

I became an Edie Brickell fan in Grade 9 after my then long, red-headed hippie boyfriend gave me a tape of her and the New Bohemians’ second album, Ghost of a Dog.

My dad has always been a huge country music fan and, as his body fails him, considers “his tunes” his one true lifeblood.

We’re both big, big Steve Martin fans who count Planes, Trains and Automobiles as the greatest movie ever made and admittedly use humour in our daily lives as a bit of a coping mechanism.

So when I heard Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell were heading to the Ottawa Jazz Festival, I thought: Father’s Day present. Check.

If Edie and Steve could bond over music and comedy — there’s 20 years between them — I figured me and dad, 27 years difference, could too.

So I lent him a notebook and got him to jot down his thoughts. Below is a he said/she said, father/daughter account of Sunday night’s show.

 Upon entering the festival grounds:

Tobi: Wow, this is a really different crowd than the one at Amnesia Rockfest, the punk/metal festival in Montebello, Que., that I got back from a few hours ago.

Terence: (To the security guard frisking his bag.) It’s just my insulin and my vaping stuff. (Proceeds to knock down security gate.)

While waiting for the show to begin:

Terence: I took a pain killer before I left. I’m completely numb from the waist down.

Tobi: Aren’t hipsters supposed to be into bluegrass? This is a really old crowd. I wonder if Steve Martin takes pain killers before he hits the stage.

Photo from ottawajazzfestival.com. Credit: Dan Nawrocki.

Photo from ottawajazzfestival.com. Credit: Dan Nawrocki.

On the man of the hour — Steve Martin:

Tobi: Looking sharp in a teal blazer and dark grey dress pants, Martin is in fine form blending banjo music and witty one-liners.

I love the juxtaposition of old age references with references to modern technology. For example, he jokes about having a botox doctor among his roadies and later notes his set list is kept on his iPad. “This next song is called Candy Crush, Level 29,” he quips. Oops, wrong screen.

Terence: You really see his age. I look at Steve when he was on the screen close up. Sometimes he appears a little tired. A whole life in the entertainment business, I’m sure he has paid his dues. I hope he is well and around for a long time.

To me, he is the type of person who is very good in whatever he does. He can be a one man show. He could stand and do nothing and I just laugh with him.

I’m sorry to hear that he has played the banjo for 50 years, but has only been on stage for a few years with this band.

The jokes:

Tobi: Turns out Steve Martin isn’t the only funny man on stage. Steep Canyon Ranger lead singer Woody Platt is pretty hilarious too. While introducing Platt, Martin noted he was also a fly fishing guide who had actually taken his wife and her family on a trip some years ago. Platt corrected him: It was just him and Martin’s wife on that trip.

From quips about Brickell’s favourite movie being Father of the Bride, to having a celebrity lookalike on hand “in case the star doesn’t feel like showing up,” Martin too had the crowd chuckling.

Terence: Can’t stop laughing at Steve’s introduction of drummer Mike Ashworth who is playing “what is essentially a pile of junk.”

His Eric Clapton joke was funny too. While criticizing his own music skills, Steve quipped: “A few weeks ago I went to see Eric Clapton and I thought, he’s not so funny.”

Edie Brickell:

Tobi: That took a while. What is that? Like, the sixth song in before she finally makes an appearance? She looks a little more homely than hippie as I remember her, but I do enjoy her folksy, raspy Texas twang. The female voice is certainly a nice addition to the band. She’s funny too, joking about the “prisoners” in the audience – those gated in the VIP area.

Terence: She reminds me of Loretta Lynn but not as good. I feel she is lacking something. I hope she improves her association with the audience.

On the band:

Tobi: The North Carolina bluegrass band shouldn’t need big names to get their music out. The sextet comprised of Mike Guggino on mandolin, Charles Humphrey on bass, Platt on Guitar and lead vocals, Nicky Sanders on fiddle, Graham Sharp on banjo and Ashworth on drums are supremely talented.

Sanders, the bespectacled, spastic and quirky fiddler who’s been playing since the age of five, however, stole the show from a musical standpoint. His solos had the audience mesmerized and drew the biggest applause.

Terence: The part where Steve left the stage with Brickell and the band continued on just makes me think I came for Steve. The band is excellent but as far as I’m concerned, Steve is the band.

Terence: There’s more than one kind of banjo? I like the music. Is this jazz?

Tobi: No, it’s bluegrass.

The songs:

Tobi: A good mix of instrumental and vocals but some of the lyrics were brilliant. Hilariously morbid, but I guess that’s country music for you. A particular favourite was Pretty little one, a cheerful classic murder ballad about a couple that has it in for each other. Turns out her gun overpowered his knife. Also entertaining was Jubilation Day, an upbeat ditty about breaking up off Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers’ 2012 album Rare Bird Alert.

Another funny, grim ballad on Martin and Brickell’s latest collaboration was Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain baby which recounts the true story of a man who found a baby in a suitcase that had been tossed from a train and brought it home to his wife to raise. In her preamble, Brickell joked about how she was looking to write a song about a southern train when she came upon this tale. For rhyming purposes, she was so happy when she learned the wife’s name was Sarah Jane.

Terence: I really enjoyed the encore – a fiddle/banjo tribute to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs who do one of my favourites: The ballad of Jed Clampett.

Father/daughter selfie: Tobi and Terrance.

Father/daughter selfie: Tobi and Terrance.

Overall impression:

Tobi: Loved the blend of comedy and music and really enjoyed how the whole band, not just Martin, was in on both. At one point Martin says: “We have an agreement. The minute this stops being fun . . . that’s when we quit.” Perhaps predictably, they all walk off the stage leaving Martin alone on his stool. Bahhh! I’m howling. So typically Steve Martin. Glad I got to share the moment with my old man.

Terence: I just loved it. It’s beautiful. It’s hilarious. Excellent night from the opening. I rate this show a 10 out of 10. The greatest part of it is that I am with my oldest daughter Tobi.

This was the Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers’ second appearance at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. The band last wowed Ottawa audiences at Jazz Fest 2012, but this was the first visit with Edie Brickell. Combining her lyrics with his music, the duo released a 13-song album last year dubbed Love has come for you. The title track won a Grammy for best American roots song.