Bluegrass and country combine for finger lickin’ fun at Ste. Michelle

  • Written by Deborah Stone

It was another picturesque evening at Chateau Ste. Michelle with the rain gods thankfully in abstentia.

Taking the stage for the sellout concert were Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers, followed by Emmylou Harris. Martin, who began playing with the Rangers in 2009, was in fine form, not only on the banjo, but with his usual comic banter. The well-known actor/comedian, who has also proven to have the chops to make it as a musician, combined his talents with the Rangers for a skillful showcase of witty, wonderful bluegrass.

The members of the North Carolina-based Rangers - Woody Platt (guitar and lead vocals), Graham Sharp (banjo), Mike Gruggino (mandolin), Charles R. Humphrey III (bass) and Nicky Sanders (fiddle) - are pros at their craft, who together with Martin, won the Entertainers of the Year Award at the 2011 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards ceremony.

The group and Martin promoted their jointly recorded 2011 album, “Rare Bird Alert,” displaying the fine tight harmonies audiences have come to know and expect.

Among them were such tracks as, “The Great Remember,” “Jubilation Day” “Best Love”(written for Martin’s wife) and the laugh out loud, “Atheists Don’t Have Songs.” Other tunes of note included, “The Crow,” “Daddy Played the Banjo,” “The Dance at the Wedding” and “Me and Paul Revere.” Twelve-time Grammy winner Emmylou Harris was in fine form, as well.

The Country Music Hall-of-Famer, whose contributions as a singer/songwriter span forty years, is still going strong and shows no sign of slowing down. No one weaves stories like Harris, whose music is all about experience and passion. She is the ultimate storyteller and her warm steel voice makes the perfect narrator.

As a performer, she aims to please, giving audiences a nonstop marathon of music, interweaving heart wrenching ballads with hard driving country rock numbers, and inspirational gospel with folksy bluegrass.

She opened the show with the rambunctious, rockabilly “Six White Cadillacs” from her 2011 release, “Hard Bargain.”

In tribute to the recently deceased Kitty Wells, the Queen of Country Music, she sang the classic, “Making Believe.”

Vintage 70s numbers included such numbers as “Hello Stranger,” “If I Could Only Win Your Love” and “Two More Bottles of Wine.” Also from “Hard Bargain” was the very sobering “My Name is Emmett Till,” which was based on the true story of a young black boy who was savagely murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after he’d been seen talking to a white woman. Harris recounts and reflects upon this incident, eulogizing the young victim and his enduring legacy with dignity and grace.

The primarily older and mellow crowd in attendance at the winery was clearly captivated by the velvet voiced Harris, displaying an awe and reverence for her ability to make music which stirs the soul.

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