String Wizard Steve Martin Hits the John Drew Stage

BERLIN - FEBRUARY 13: Actor Steve Martin attends the premiere for 'Pink Panther 2' as part of the 59th Berlin Film Festival at the Berlinale Palast on February 13, 2009 in Berlin, Germany.
Steve Martin. Photo credit: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images/Thinkstock

So over the Fourth of July weekend, the Emmy and Grammy Award-winning author, actor and comedian Steve Martin will be hitting the John Drew stage at Guild Hall on Saturday, July 2, for an evening of bluegrass and banjo with The Steep Canyon Rangers. That’s genius. But it doesn’t end there. Guild Hall has a surprise up its sleeve because the Best Blue Grass Album Grammy Award that Martin won last year called The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo was produced by his friend of over 40 years, John McEuen.

Last summer, McEuen played to a packed house at Guild Hall, and on the heels of Martin’s show, on Wednesday, July 6, at 8 p.m., John McEuen of the seminal Nitty Gritty Dirt Band along with Matt Cartsonis and John’s son, a favorite on the Indie acoustic scene, Nathan McEuen, will take over the John Drew for one night only. Now that is genius programming.

McEuen Sr. and Martin actually met one another in their late teens when both worked at the Disneyland Magic Shop. Way back then the two would play music together, and Martin credits McEuen with teaching him how to play banjo. [expand]

In 1972, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, composed of musicians from Long Beach, California, collaborated with some of the most important, legendary performers of the time and released Will the Circle Be Unbroken. It’s an album that the Library of Congress inducted as “One of America’s Most Important Recordings.”

You may know the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band from their Billboard Top Ten cover of “Mr. Bojangles,” but their crossover Circle album influenced American culture in ways that are still not completely understood.

“It was a difficult time in America,” McEuen said, “can you imagine what would happen if today National Guard troops opened fire and killed students on a campus in America?”

“I had one guy tell me that he and his father never spoke, but when his father heard his son playing this record, he sat down with him and they listened to it together. Another guy said the album saved his life after he returned from Vietnam,” said McEuen.

Wednesday’s concert will cover music from the 1880s through now. “They’ll be some things from Circle, some Dirt Band favorites, and other songs that will knock people out,” he said. “When I turn Matt loose, watch out, and Nathan is an amazing performer.”

“The String Wizard” is a moniker that McEuen was given years ago, as he is a master of the banjo, fiddle, guitar and mandolin. He still tours with the original members of the Dirt Band, but loves these kinds of gigs in spaces as intimate as the John Drew at Guild Hall. “I get to use everything I’ve learned about performing in 45 years. There is lots of music and comedy. You never know what’s going to happen.” It can be magical, he said, “and by the end I hope we’ve created a space that no one wants to leave.”

When we spoke on the phone, McEuen was in San Francisco to play a concert at the Filmore. “The first time I played the Filmore was in 1967 on the same bill with Blue Cheer. They did the song ‘Summertime Blues.’ They were known for being really loud, so loud once that a dog walked in front of the PA and had a heart attack. Blue Cheer killed a dog.”

Winning last year’s Grammy for his work with Martin was an unbelievable moment, he said. “We were just a couple of guys from Orange County, California who loved to play music.”

Tickets can be had at the Guild Hall box office or online at [/expand]

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