Tonight: Steve Martin, Edie Brickell and Steep Canyon Rangers take over Heinz Hall


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Sometimes I think I'd like to go to Heinz Hall for a show that isn't all full of highfalutin, nose-in-the-air, fancy-pants, long-hair music written by some guy who's been dead for 300 years.

Well, ex-cu-u-u-u-u-se me!

Tonight, we have just the thing as famed comedian Steve Martin and pop singer Edie Brickell join the Steep Canyon Rangers at our world-class venue for an evening of grown-in-the-American-sunshine bluegrass.

"This is something that's not to be missed. That's for sure," said Mike Guggino, who plays the mandolin with the Steep Canyon Rangers.

OK, so you're familiar with Mr. Martin and Ms. Brickell. But these Steep Canyon Rangers ... where'd they come from?

Well, I'll tell you. Or rather, Mr. Guggino will tell you.

"We were just in college -- the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill -- and we were just a bunch of college buddies who got together and started a band," he said this afternoon. "That was probably around in 1999, and we just kept doing it. And here we are."

People from Down South tend to talk that way. Pretty much short and to the point.

The original band members are Mr. Guggino, Charles R. Humphrey III on the upright bass, Graham Sharp on banjo, and Woody Platt on guitar. Fiddle player Nicky Sanders joined them in 2004.

All of these boys are professional musicians, some of them classically trained. So why bluegrass?

"Generally, where we live -- western North Carolina, all over North Carolina -- is obviously a real big place for bluegrass," Mr. Guggino said. "There's a lot of history there. A lot of the famous bluegrass musicians -- Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, people like that -- are from there. And we fell in love with it, all of us when we got to college. There was kind of a resurgence of bluegrass and we got into it. And we've been doing it ever since."

You know what's so unique about it?

"It's completely American made music, just like Bill Monroe played in Kentucky in the 1940s," Mr. Guggino said. "But it's grown now. There's bluegrass bands now in countries all over the world. We're a part of the International Music Association, and that meets every year. We see bands from all over the world, even Russia. So it's growing.

"It seems to be popular everywhere. People react to it differently, I think, in different parts of the country, which is interesting to see. We were just in Canada at the Toronto Jazz Festival, and the way they reacted to it was different from the way, say, the people from the American Southeast might react to it. And that's really cool. It's such an acoustic, organic, rootsy kind of thing. People like the ensemble aspect, the harmony singing, and the way all the instruments play together."

So how did these fellows hook up with motion picture and television star Steve Martin? Is it a gimmick or is this for real?

"We actually knew his wife before she was his wife," Mr. Guggino said, "and she introduced us at a party in North Carolina about four years ago, right around the time that his first album, 'The Crow,' came out. We played together, and he wanted to go on tour and needed a band. And he found one. Us. So, we were in the right place at the right time, I guess."

The Steep Canyon Rangers have joined Mr. Martin on numerous recordings, television shows and high-profile appearances. This bluegrass stuff is perfect for summer festivals.

But it isn't all toe-tappin', good-timin' music.

"It does run a wider range," Mr. Guggino said. "Steve Martin actually talks about that in the show. He does several songs in the claw-hammer-style banjo playing that is kind of more melancholy and emotional. We'll do several of those tonight.

"We feel lucky to be getting to play these tours with Steve Martin and maybe bringing bluegrass to audiences that have never heard bluegrass before. And getting to play on TV shows and these big venues and sort of be ambassadors for bluegrass.

"I like to think there will be people at these shows like tonight who have never seen a bluegrass show before. We're the first they've ever seen. We take a lot of pride in that, and we want to represent the music well and make people fall in love with it and maybe they'll go and see other bluegrass bands."

Of course, it's hard to imagine a show with Steve Martin -- and the audience keeping a straight face.

"Oh, there's a lot of comedy," Mr. Guggino said. "We're the band. We come out with Steve. And then we bring Edie out. And there's some by ourselves. Steve will do some solo stuff.

"It's basically one long show with everybody together weaving in and out. It's interesting. There's moments of intense comedy and there's moments when you forget that he's a comedian and it's just a very serious, emotional tune. I would say it's serious music with a lot of funny talk in between. It makes for a really good show."

The concert will be at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 to $150.

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If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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