Exhibit honors Steve Martin's contributions to the banjo world 

click to enlarge Steve Martin exhibit at the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Steve Martin exhibit at the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016.

Earl Scruggs made the banjo talk. Steve Martin made the banjo cool. No one realizes this more than the American Banjo Museum, 9 E. Sheridan Ave. The Banjo World of Steve Martin exhibit opened there in February and remains on display through February 2017. The venue also inducted Martin into its hall of fame in September.

“The reality is, to the general public these days, Steve Martin is one of the most recognizable figures associated with the banjo,” said Johnny Baier, museum executive director.

Baier said the museum worked to bring in the exhibit before Martin was inducted. Doing anything with the Saturday Night Live (SNL) alumnus and star of movies like 1979’s The Jerk and 1987’s Planes, Trains & Automobiles takes a lot of advance planning. No progress could be made on an exhibit without the actor’s blessing.

Thankfully for American Banjo Museum, Martin was flattered by the offer to tell his musical story.

“Most people can’t fathom the Wild and Crazy Guy being serious about anything, but banjo is a real passion for him,” Baier said.

click to enlarge Steve Martin exhibit at the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Steve Martin exhibit at the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016.

Martin offered the site a handful of instruments from his private collection, some very personal. Visitors will find Martin’s first banjo — the one he learned to play on — behind glass. Next to it sits the one he played on SNL and Wild and Crazy Guy. No banjo in history has been seen by more people, aside from maybe Scruggs’.

Also included in the museum’s collection are the banjos Martin used to perform and record two of his bluegrass albums, The Crow and Rare Bird Alert. Martin keeps each one tuned for specific songs he plays on them. He was willing to lend these instruments to the exhibit because he has no immediate plans to perform any of that material, though Baier added the artist has the right to call back any of them if needed.

In addition to banjos, guests also can watch clips from Martin’s live performances in the downstairs theater. Upstairs, people can catch a candid, sit-down video interview between Baier and the entertainer.

Baier said Martin is a man fully aware of his status as a banjo ambassador. Other entertainers and comedians have been connected with the banjo or other musical instruments in the past, but usually as a prop.

Martin has rarely, if ever, used his banjo as a gag. He’s serious about music.

“One of the reasons this exhibit exists is that he realizes adding his celebrity name and status to anything that will promote the banjo will help the banjo,” Baier said. “He doesn’t need help in his career. He’s firmly established.”

The headstock of Steve Martin's first banjo, purchased in the early 1960's, at the Steve Martin exhibit at the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • The headstock of Steve Martin's first banjo, purchased in the early 1960's, at the Steve Martin exhibit at the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016.

Martin has tweeted about the exhibit but has not yet visited it. Baier said Martin told him he wants to see it, if possible. He’s tied up working on the Broadway bluegrass musical he wrote, Bright Star, opening March 24.

American Banjo Museum has seen an uptick in attendance since the exhibit opened last month. Intentionally or not, Martin has become the most recognizable name in the banjo world.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s the most important temporary exhibit that we’ve ever had,” Baier said.

Print headline: String boss, The Banjo World of Steve Martin strikes a serious note for the wild and crazy guy.

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