Moments before Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers performed the song "Daddy Played the Banjo," a little blond girl who couldn't have been more than 2 clapped and danced joyfully to the happy bluegrass music.
That's kind of the way Thursday night's sold-out bluegrass concert at Red Butte Garden went. It's impossible not to smile, dance, clap and do a little toe-tapping when listening to happy music, even when some of the songs are sad.
One of the lyrics to "Daddy Played the Banjo" goes, "I am hoping a kid somewhere is listening to me." Martin more or less sealed that deal at the end of the 100-minute show by signing two banjos and giving them to two children close to the stage.
The 66-year-old white-haired Martin was the obvious star of the show, though the Rangers certainly held their own. That said, it might take a film, television and comedy star to bring bluegrass into the mainstream.
But a Martin show is more than just about the music. There is plenty of comedy, much of it self-depreciating.
"Now I wished I'd practiced," looking at the big crowd as he walked out on the stage.
"I saw a poster of me coming in with a banner that said 'Sold Out.' I thought 'For rude.' "
On the five banjos that sat onstage: "Banjos are my children, which means one of these is probably not mine."
On the downside of bluegrass bands not traveling with a drummer: "There's no pot."
And introducing an instrumental song: "You can sing along. Just make up your own lyrics."
But the show wasn't all fun and games. The Rangers Graham Sharp on the banjo, Woody Platt on the guitar, Charles Humphrey on the stand up bass, Mike Guggino on the mandolin and the amazing Nicky Sanders on the fiddle were certainly fine musicians.
An encore featuring Sanders' fiddle work left the crowd dancing home. He mixed in the Beatles' Norwegian Wood and more than a few television theme songs in a stirring solo performance.
And there were messages to many of the songs.
"Jubilation Day" was about divorce, "Auden's Train" was about a poem, "Pretty Little One" told a murder story with a twist, and the poignant "Best Love" was about the little things that keep a couple together.
"Me and Paul Revere" told the story of Revere's famous ride from the point of view of his horse.
The funniest number, though, was an a cappella, "Atheists Don't Have No Songs," that listed all the music that many faiths use in their services and then talked about what atheists do and sing. The song included lines like " 'he' is always in lower case" and "atheists have rock and roll."
There were some nice instrumentals as well, including "The Crow" and "Dance at the Wedding."
These guys earned the Entertainers of the Year from the International Bluegrass Association for a reason. They know how to entertain with a lot of great bluegrass coupled with some of Martin's trademark humor. It doesn't get much more entertaining than that.
R When • Thursday
Where • Red Butte Garden, Salt Lake City
Bottom line • Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers left the crowd laughing and dancing.