If you’re anything like me, you have a list of “must-see” entertainers that you keep – people you will do everything in your power to go see if the opportunity comes up. I’ve had the chance to see both Weird Al Yankovic and Sheryl Crow, but up until a month ago, I didn’t figure there’d ever be a chance for me to see the number one on my list, mostly because he stopped doing comedy tours in the early 80s.
My first exposure to Steve Martin was his appearance on The Muppet Show, one of the few TV shows I was allowed to watch as a kid. We’d watch it as a family, and I’d look forward to it all week. (I remember being crushed the week Alice Cooper was on, as we weren’t allowed to watch that one.) Steve’s appearance was silly and hilarious: he juggled, played the banjo, and made balloon animals, all while putting on a semi-faux sardonic exterior – but you could tell he was having a great time with the Muppets.
His appearance on the show stuck with me, and years later I got into his comedy albums and movies. He has also written essays, novels (one of which I’ve quoted from before
), an autobiography, and a few plays. He is probably the closest we have to a Renaissance man in the entertainment field today, and I’d love to have a career like his.
Earlier this year he released the album “The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo
,” which is made up mostly of songs he wrote. He is joined on the album by such luminaries as Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Earl Scruggs, and Bela Fleck, and it’s probably the best bluegrass album I’ve ever listened to. Granted, that list is a short one, but I stand by my statement.
When I heard he’d be in Chicago putting on a concert, I bought tickets the same day. It was for a Thursday evening, but I knew I had to go because I might not get the chance again. I took a vacation day on the Friday after, but since schools were on Fall Break, I was able to convince Megan to go with me.
It rained pretty much the whole way to Chicago and the whole time we were there, and Chicago comes by the nickname “The Windy City” honestly. It was cold and wet and unpleasant, but we had a great time. We were able to eat at Giordano’s
before the show, and it was right across the street from the Sears Tower (which I guess is now “Willis Tower”?).
Driving in Chicago has never been one of my favorite things to do, but I figured this time would be better because of Helen, my GPS. Helen is so named because she sounds like a Helen, particularly when she says “Recalculating” in an ever-so-exasperated tone when I have diverted from the route she spent so much time planning for me. Helen has been a great help to me, but apparently Helen has her limitations. It never once occurred to me that in the middle of downtown Chicago, amidst buildings a mile high, that Helen might have some difficulties contacting her satellite buddies. This made for several fear-inducing minutes when it appeared that we were lost forever with no hope of ever finding our way to the Cadillac Theatre in time to see Steve Martin the Steep Canyon Rangers.
I am always reminded when I go to concerts that I should have paid the extra money for closer seats. While we didn’t have any trouble hearing the concert, it was a little difficult to make out any details on the musicians from our last-row-in-the-balcony seats. If the kind lady next to us hadn’t offered the use of her binoculars we might never have known Steve was wearing glasses.
I don’t know your feelings on bluegrass music — and, frankly, I wasn’t too sure on my own feelings about it — but let me just say this: it is next to impossible to be unhappy while you’re listening to banjo music. We enjoyed the concert immensely: Steve was hilarious in-between songs, the fiddle player was incredible, and everyone was having a great time.
And the absolute best thing? The musical pinnacle of the evening? The very last encore was a bluegrass version of Steve’s hit from 1978, “King Tut
.” Earlier in the evening I had said something to Megan about how it would be awesome if they played it but that there was no way – Steve had moved on, it was a different era, yada yada yada. And then all of a sudden, there it was. I couldn’t have been more surprised or thrilled.
In the midst of a lot of great things that are making up the German Chocolate cake that is my life right now, this evening was the pecan-coconut frosting on top of it.