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Evening of ‘Bluegrass and Banjo’ doesn’t disappoint

July 27, 2011

Jim Drake’s Entertainment Blog

Evening of ‘Bluegrass and Banjo’ doesn’t disappoint

So, last week, I did the craziest thing. Mid-day on Thursday, I bailed out of work early and got into my car and drove north. For four-and-a-half hours.

The place? Snoqualmie, Wash. Ever been there? Me neither. But man, what a place. A huge spectacular valley, with the nicest strip malls I’ve ever seen landscaped into the mountain side. It seemed to me, if Beverly Hills were suddenly relocated to rural northwest Washington, this would be it. On my way down the “Snoqualmie Parkway” into the valley, a small furry bunny rabbit skipped across the road. And what was down at the bottom of the valley? Trains! Dozens of antique, historical — museum-quality trains.

Believe me, if I had had a few extra hours at that time, I would have gotten out of my car and walked around. Instead, I made a pit stop at some kind of burger joint/convienience store to ask for directions. My scrawled notes from Google Maps did not make any sense any more, and I couldn’t risk being late. Besides, I had no idea where I was.

The nice gentleman in the convenience store told me the casino was back up the hill. “Just make a right and keep going up, you can’t miss it.” He was right. Funny how when I came down the hill from one direction, there were no casino signs. Ahead of me now was a traffic circle, with all signs and arrows pointing directly to the entrance of a huge American Indian casino.

I knew the concert was supposed to be outside, but I couldn’t see the actual venue yet. Maybe it’s around the back. I drive into parking lot. There are some RVs camping out. I wonder if the band’s tour bus is down there somewhere. I head through the parking garage to the elevators. Maybe there’s a map of this place inside. The maze of slot machines is confusing. Suddenly you can’t remember which door you came out of. It turned out the outdoor seating was through the ballroom to the left.

Hey, this is really nice! A big, and I mean, big stage. Up high, too. Nice spacing between the seats and aisles. Not a bad seat anywhere, really. So, by now, you’ve got to be asking — who on earth would you drive 4½ hours to go see on a Thursday in Snoqualmie?

Well, it all came down to this. A banjo player. You see, it just so happened, that a certain bluegrass band called the Steep Canyon Rangers have serendipitously worked up a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration with an American comedy icon.

Mr. Steve Martin.

Yes, it turns out the same fellow who gave us books like “Cruel Shoes,” movies like “Roxanne,” and “All of Me,” and best-selling comedy albums like “Let’s Get Small,” is a damn good banjo player. Steve joked that it was really boring how he met the band — they played a party at his house. He wanted to devise a story about meeting them in rehab.

Comparing his current bluegrass tour to his comedy tours in the ’70s — Steve said this is really great. “In the ’70s, I was alone, it was depressing, really. Now, there’s lots of band camaraderie on the bus ... there’s music playing ... and I know this because I hear it on the phone from my private jet.”

Musically, it’s been a long road for Steve. He won a Grammy for his latest bluegrass album “Rare Bird Alert.” But his earlier songs didn’t fare so well. He said his early protest music — songs like “Let’s keep the minimum wage right where she is,” did not go over well.

He started the show by saying that it was one of his dreams to play bluegrass in the Snoqualmie Valley. “And tonight, I am one step closer to that dream.” :0)

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