To say that 2011 was a banner year for bluegrass quintet Steep Canyon Rangers is a bit of an understatement. A short list of highlights includes: Playing at the White House for the president, signing with Rounder Records, late shows including Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, morning spots on the likes of The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The View, selling out Mountain Song Festival (which they organize and headline in Brevard) and being awarded Entertainers of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).
The cherry on top? The Rangers have just received a Grammy nod is for their latest album, Rare Bird Alert, recorded with actor and banjo-player Steve Martin. A hardworking professional band for 11 years now, the Rangers had already garnered a great deal of acclaim before the serendipitous team up with Martin just under three years ago. Partnering with Martin has given the band some incredible opportunities, and has allowed them to introduce bluegrass music to a much wider audience. Martin frequently says during live performances, “These guys didn’t need me, they were already a great band, but I sure needed them!”
The Rangers, who perform in the traditional one-microphone style, keep a rigorous touring schedule throughout the year, doing approximately 50 shows with Martin and about 70 dates of their own. They play mostly original music, with the majority of the songs written by Graham Sharp (banjo), and Charles Humphrey III (bass). Woody Platt fronts the band on guitar and lead vocals, Mike Guggino plays mandolin and sings harmonies, and the animated Nicky Sanders rounds out the group on the fiddle.
Although the band is based in Western N.C., they are on the road so often that locals can only see them a few times a year. This year’s big show — also a benefit for the Evergreen Community Charter School — takes place this week at The Orange Peel. According to ECCS’s website: “A $100 ticket gets you delicious food from local restaurants, beer, wine and champagne and mingling with the band members in the Pulp Room at the Orange Peel from 7 to 8:30 p.m. prior to the concert.” Show-only tickets are sold separately through the Orange Peel.
Catching up with Platt over the phone from his home in Brevard, he said the Orange Peel show will be “an evening with the Steep Canyon Rangers, with no opening band. We’ll have a partially seated show and will play two long sets of music.” The Rangers recently wrapped up recording at Echo Mountain. Platt explained that this show will give the band a chance to feature a lot of songs off the new record in front of their hometown crowd. They’ve worked the songs up in the studio, and are having a lot of fun playing them for live audiences. He went on to say, “That’s where we are in the process with these songs. This new album shows the further evolution of the band. We’re still who we are, but continue to explore different things. This new album is really song-oriented; it was really about what each song needed. Eleven of the 12 tracks are original songs from within the band. We had a few special guests, but mostly this album is us, what we do.” The title of the new album is yet to be determined, but the band is shooting for a late March release on Rounder Records.
When asked about what he and the band were looking forward to in 2012, Platt said, “We’ve got some great tour dates booked with Steve [Martin], and on our own. We’re very excited about the opportunity for a Grammy, and we can’t wait for the new album release. All in all, watching our hard work and good fortune translate into career growth for our band. We try to capitalize on opportunities and turn them into more opportunities. All the while having a great time playing music with friends.”
— Stacy Claude is a local musician, freelance writer and author of Asheville Roots Music Review at avlrootsreview.blogspot.com.
who: Steep Canyon Rangers
what: Concert Benefit for Evergreen Community Charter School
where: The Orange Peel
when: Friday, Jan. 13 (9 p.m. $20 advance or $22 at the door. http://theorangepeel.net.)