Category: Steve Martin

Stagecoach 2012: Some highlights -- Miranda Lambert, Dave Alvin

Miranda Lambert during her headlining show at Stagecoach 2012
After a relatively low-key first day of the Stagecoach Country Music Festival on Friday, with just a half-dozen acts on a single stage, the music kicked into high gear Saturday. On the second day, all three stages were up and running with 17 more acts representing country, pop-country, alt-country and every other type of hybrid country music under the desert sun.

That's downright modest compared to the total sensory and schedule overload of the 143 acts that played the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival for the two previous weekends, but still enough to create some hard choices among simultaneously scheduled performers.

For instance, do you catch 85-year-old bluegrass master Ralph Stanley at the expense of a rare chance to hear singer-songwriter J.D. Souther, one of the architects of the Southern California country-rock sound that's been the template for much of what's been coming out of Nashville for the last two decades? And then miss out on rising Texas singer songwriter Sunny Sweeney, who was on the Mane Stage at the same time as Stanley and Souther?

PHOTOS: The scene at Stagecoach 2012

Such are the dilemmas of Stagecoach 2012.

One solution: in a music festival equivalent of culinary grazing, attempt to get a representative, if truncated, sampling of as many bands as possible.

Here are some highlights from the first two days:

-- Miranda Lambert: The sassy Texas singer-songwriter headlined on Saturday with a performance that firmly demonstrated why she’s become a full-blown star. All the elements are clicking for her: fresh and insightful songwriting, commanding stage presence and a wonderfully distinctive voice, all working together in service of celebrating and empowering the predominantly female crowd that makes up country’s core audience.

-- Dave Alvin & the Guilty Ones; You'd be hard-pressed this weekend, or any weekend for that matter, to hear songs that reach deeper or ring truer than Alvin's portraits of people who often struggle without earthly reward for their efforts. Whether on his old Blasters/X classic "Fourth of July" or a more recent song such as "Black Rose of Texas," Alvin unfailingly hits the mark.

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Stagecoach 2012: Steve Martin goes whole hog in Indio

Click here for more photos from Stagecoach
It was with some sense of deja vu that Steve Martin pulled into Stagecoach for a performance Saturday that had him and the Steep Canyon Rangers slotted to play immediately after bluegrass music patriarch Ralph Stanley, a situation similar to one in which he and Stanley shared a bill at Carnegie Hall a couple years ago.

"I asked who was going on when, and they said Ralph was opening," Martin said on his tour bus while relaxing on a bench seat with two banjos. "I said, 'No, Ralph Stanley doesn't open for me, I open for him.' So I came out and played a couple of songs and then he went on."

Martin has thrown himself whole hog into his music career after releasing a critically well-received, and Grammy-winning, debut music album in 2009, "The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo."

PHOTOS: The scene at Stagecoach 2012

"I haven't given up," he said with obvious delight in his voice. "I'm still very interested, not only in the banjo-playing but in the songwriting. We've now got enough material for a third album and a fourth one. That's all in the works."

One of the songs for his next bluegrass album includes a poem by W.H. Auden, "Calypso," which Martin set to music.

"What happened," he said, "was my wife was reading this poem and she said, 'You know, this really sounds like a bluegrass song.' I read it and I thought the same thing. So after I wrote the music I emailed the song to his estate.

"The estate is one guy, a professor, and when when he heard the song he was thrilled. It was part of a group of poems that were meant to be songs, and it originally had music written by Benjamin Britten -- very atonal, 12-tone weird stuff and it was maybe great for 1935."

Martin has not given it a title yet, but planned to include it in his Stagecoach set.

RELATED:

Stagecoach 2012: Backstage with Jason Aldean

The Mavericks come 'full circle' at Stagecoach festival

Stagecoach 2012: Eli Young Band welcomes the dreamers

-- Randy Lewis

Image: Steve Martin performs with the Steep Canyon Rangers on the Mustang Stage at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Inside the banjo players' studio: Ed Helms and Steve Martin talk frailing, fingering and timing

This Sunday, Steve Martin headlines the final night of the Bluegrass Situation, a four-night festival curated by fellow actor and fellow banjo enthusiast Ed Helms. If it’s anything like the concert Martin did at the same festival last year, you can expect Helms to get on stage with Martin for at least one number and partake in… you know… banjos that duel.

Martin and Helms sat down for a conversation about their mutual bluegrass obsession, much of which appears in a story in today’s Times. As a bonus, here is some more of their dialogue, including everything you wanted to know about the clawhammer style but were afraid to ask. 

Los Angeles Times: As actors and musicians, do you find there’s anything at all that transfers intuitively from one discipline to the other? Can musical timing inform comedic timing, or vice versa?

Ed Helms: Well, I’ve been told my banjo playing is hilarious. I don’t know how to take that.

Steve Martin: Well, I think that comedic timing is a mystery, and musical timing is not. It’s exactly timing. It’s just timing.

So musical timing is a little more scientific in some way?

Martin: I don’t know. You could make an argument both ways, I guess. You could argue that off-timing in comedy is… Who has off-timing in comedy? Bill Murray has off-timing. And so does Christopher Walken. He’s not a comedian, but he has off-time readings.

Helms: Or Christopher Guest.

Martin: Yeah. But off-timing in music, too, can work. But everybody has to agree!

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