Band that collabs with comedian Steve Martin to headline Bluegrass and Brew Festival in Fairborn

August event featuring three bands is free to attend.

Grammy Award-winning bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers will headline Fairborn’s Bluegrass and Brew Festival 8:30 p.m. Aug. 2.

The North Carolinian string band originally formed in 2000 and has recorded nine solo albums and two collaborative albums with comedy legend and banjoist Steve Martin.

The band’s collaboration with Martin started in 2009 at a benefit concert for the Los Angeles Public Library, which subsequently led to performances at Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Festival Hall and the Wang Center in Boston.

The first collaborative studio album between the band and Martin, “Rare Bird Alert” (2011), featured guest vocalists The Chicks and Paul McCartney, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album in 2012.

Steep Canyon Rangers’ solo album “Nobody Knows You” (2012) took home the Grammy the following year. “Nobody Knows You” also peaked at #2 on Billboard’s Top Bluegrass Albums chart.

Steep Canyon Rangers and Steve Martin began performing with singer-songwriter Edie Brickell in 2013. The band still occasionally performs with Steve Martin and Martin Short in their touring comedy and musical show.

“[Steve Martin] is a guy who has been as famous as anybody in the world, really,” said Barrett Smith, upright bassist and harmony vocalist with SCR since 2018. “It’s weird to say but he’s like a friend and somebody that feels normal to see and hang out and work with, which is pretty thrilling.”

Smith says that the band’s time with Martin (and Short) makes up about one-fourth of what the band does, otherwise consistently touring on the band’s substantial and award-winning catalog — one that’s waded along with the ebb and flow of modernized bluegrass music.

It was a big moment for bluegrass when the Coen Brothers released their period film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000) and the corresponding soundtrack that won Album of the Year. The bluegrass theme for the 1960s sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies” (performed by Foggy Mountain Boys) didn’t hurt the genre either.

Now, as Billy Strings — a certifiable flatpicking superstar — sells out arenas, the genre is more popular than ever.

“[Strings is] bringing in a rising tide that floats all the ships,” Smith said. “It’s undeniable that he’s had a major impact on the genre and this popularity.”

The definition of bluegrass has shifted over the years, and there’s a traditional, conservative answer to “What is bluegrass?” By the book, if a bluegrass band has drums in it, it’s not considered bluegrass. If it has no banjo, it’s not bluegrass. If a band isn’t playing like Flatt & Scruggs or the Stanley Brothers, it’s not bluegrass.

But bands such as Steep Canyon Rangers (and Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers, etc.) shift the idea of what a bluegrass band can be simply by introducing electric instruments, by taking those traditional sounds and bending the norms while remaining recognizable.

“Picture some jazz player from the 1920s in New Orleans, and then there he is in the 1950s or 60s, listening to something like Miles Davis or John Coltrane… then you have some old timer sitting on steps in New Orleans saying, ‘I don’t know what this is but it’s not jazz,’” Smith said. “And he’s right. It’s some other concoction that came from jazz.”

Traditionalists have their place, important voices in keeping genre throughlines together. But Smith says bluegrass, like jazz, survives because it changed, morphed and assimilated.

“We call ourselves a bluegrass band, even though there are a lot of people who would really take exception to that,” Smith said. “But if bluegrass is going to be a thing that still exists 100 years from now, it’s only going to be because it changed. If that’s the case, then we consider ourselves to be a part of that story and a part of that development.”

Steep Canyon Rangers’ most recent releases, “Morning Shift” and “Fruits of My Labor,” are singles from the band’s upcoming live album, “Live at Greenfield Lake,” set to release in late August. The singles feature SCR’s newest band member, guitarist and vocalist Aaron Burdett, who joined the band in 2022.

“The live set is really our thing,” Smith said. “That’s what we do and what we take the most pride in. So we said let’s take a good show and turn it into an album.”

And even though there will be no “Live from Bluegrass and Brew,” at least we’ll get to see Steep Canyon Rangers live at Bluegrass and Brew.

How to go

What: Fairborn’s Bluegrass and Brew Festival

When: 4 to 10 p.m., Friday, Aug. 2

Where: Main Street Commons, 103 West Main St. Fairborn

Description: Three bluegrass bands, multiple food trucks, family-friendly activities, a beer garden with craft and domestic beers and free Wi-Fi throughout the event area.. Bands are The Wayfarers (6 p.m.), Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers (7:15 p.m.) and Steep Canyon Rangers (8:30 p.m.)

Cost: Free

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