It was my first time setting foot into the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. I had heard the stories—the tales of the legendary acoustics and the history of the hall—but I had never actually been there. I walked in to find the classic look of an older theater that was humming with an excited audience, dressed to the nines for a night on the town. Hiking my way up the stairs to the balcony, I made my way over weathered carpet and past creaky banisters. A wizened usher pointed me in the direction of my seat and offered me a program that was far more modern than any of its surroundings. I took my rather uncomfortable seat, laughing at the hooks underneath meant for hanging my top hat. The lights dimmed and a hush of anticipation swept through the audience.
I was here to see Steve Martin. While some may have been expecting a comedy act, Martin instead delivered an impressive evening of bluegrass and banjo. Appearing with the Steep Canyon Rangers, a bluegrass group from South Carolina, Martin proved himself not only a competent but also an excellent banjo player. While his personality showed through as he joked with the audience between numbers, Martin was careful not to steal the show from his band, insisting that they play several numbers without him. And man could they play. The Steep Canyon Rangers produced an upbeat and incredible sound with a banjo, an acoustic guitar, an upright base, a mandolin, and a fiddle—playing song by song with energy and precise skill.
While Martin is quite the banjo player, he is no Béla Fleck. And it wasn’t hard to realize that he didn’t actually add much more than an element of comedy to the Steep Canyon Rangers, who were the real impressive talent. That is, until I realized Martin was the composer. He personally wrote and composed many of the songs that were performed, all of which were complex, elegant, and often very funny. Before each song he also explained where he got the idea—like from watching his dog chase a tennis ball.
The band played for nearly an hour and a half, with three encore songs. While it seemed that they would end on Martin’s SNL-made-famous “King Tut,” the audience was so alive that they literally continued until they ran out of songs that they knew. Overall, it was an excellent and unexpected night of great folk and bluegrass music.
Oh, and the acoustics lived up to their name. Good luck beating that, Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center.