Steep Canyon Rangers
THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS are living, picking proof that bluegrass music can adapt to its times without losing its history, and that artistry plus dedication can – even in this era of music business uncertainty – launch a major career. In just ten years (a short spell in bluegrass), this five-piece band has graduated from stairwell jams at the University of North Carolina to America’s greatest stages, including the Grand Ole Opry and a national tour with Grammy- and Emmy-winning actor/comedian and banjo player Steve Martin.
Best-known for their enthralling, good-time live shows at venues that run the gamut from bluegrass and Americana festivals like MerleFest, Telluride, and RockyGrass to major music events in Sweden, Ireland, Germany, and Canada, to rock venues on the jam band circuit, the Rangers were named Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2006 International Bluegrass Music Awards. Their 2007 CD, Lovin’ Pretty Women, was nominated for IBMA’s Album of the Year.
For their current CD, Deep in the Shade (2009), the Rangers went back into the studio with star bluegrass singer and songwriter Ronnie Bowman as producer. The project is as rangy as the band’s name, a grand tour through a variety of styles and moods that, even so, couldn’t be mistaken for anything besides traditional bluegrass.
The four founding Rangers – lead singer/guitarist Woody Platt, mandolinist Mike Guggino, bassist Charles R. Humphrey III, and banjo player Graham Sharp – were among the college students of the late 1990s who came to bluegrass not by birthright, but through discovery. They became exemplars of a movement inspired by the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, and Del McCoury. The addition five years ago of fiddler Nicky Sanders (also an adult bluegrass convert) was the band’s only personnel change. It’s been said that what looks like genius is really just a cocktail of basic aptitude, focused determination, and 10,000 hours of practice. The Steep Canyon Rangers spun that odometer over long ago.
The Rangers launched their own Mountain Song Festival near their hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, selling it out in just a couple of years. In 2008 they were invited to play the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and they opened the IBMA Awards playing their nominated song, “Lovin’ Pretty Women.” About that same time, a family relationship put them in a position to back Steve Martin, as he played his first shows as a banjo player with a new recording. The trial runs went so well that the Rangers were invited to tour extensively with Martin in 2009.