Breaking into Mountain Song

Think "bluegrass festival," and immediately the images appear: Rowdy cloggers, fiery fiddlers, hoedowns and hootenannies. That's all good, but the Mountain Song Festival — now in its fourth year at Brevard Music Center's Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium, puts a refined twist on all the pickin' and grinnin.'

Sharing the stage: The Steep Canyon Rangers have been gigging with Steve Martin, who recently released an album of banjo tunes. They'll be together again this weekend at the Rangers' Mountain Song Festival in Brevard.

For starters, the main event is held at Brevard Music Center's lovely covered, open-air theater. Pets and coolers are off limits, but finger food is served up at the Friday evening pre-show (held at the rustically elegant Straus Barn). And, speaking of rustic elegance, festival planners have put together a stellar lineup that melds all the refinement of the concert hall with the red-hot musicianship of traditional mountain sounds.

The festival boasts a number of terrific acts: The legendary David Grisman, former Jerry Garcia collaborator and "Dawg" music innovator, who'll play with his newgrass-jazz-experimental quintet. Famed Maryland-based bluegrass band The Seldom Scene graces the lineup. And the Steep Canyon Rangers play with Steve Martin, the comedian/actor/playwright (and, it turns out, banjo aficionado) who recently released The Raven and enlisted the Brevard boys to play with him.

The Rangers have been playing shows this year with Martin in New York in L.A., and appearing on the folksy public radio favorite A Prairie Home Companion. Now the band hosts Martin at its home stage.

Though Martin is best know for his comedic film roles (The Jerk, L.A. Story, The Pink Panther) and his writing (Shop Girl, Picasso at the Lapin Agile), he's a formidable musician. In 2001, he played on the Earl Scruggs' remake of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" which went on to win Best Country Instrumental Performance category at the 2002 Grammys. This year, Martin released The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, his first all-music album.

Rounding out the star-studded roster are local favorites Shannon Whitworth & The Refugees (whose songs are described, appropriately, as "steeped in southern elegance"), Americana/acoustic quartet Moon Shine Babies and revved-up bluegrass/country act Town Mountain. Portions of the ticket sales go to the Boys and Girls Club of Transylvania County.

who: Steep Canyon Rangers, David Grisman Quintet, Seldom Scene, Steve Martin, Shannon Whitworth and the Refugees, Town Mountain, Moon Shine Babies
what: Mountain Song Festival
where: Brevard Music Center
when: Pre-party on Friday, Sept. 11 (6:30-10:30 p.m., $25); festival on Saturday, Sept. 12 (2-10 p.m., auditorium seating sold out at press time, $30 for lawn seating. ) Tickets and info at 800-514-3849 or

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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