Today’s Feature, August 13-14: Steep Canyon Rangers

January 18, 2008 at 5:27 pm (Today's Feature)

Attending college around the Maryland and DC area, I drank at bars filled with the echoes of all kinds of bands trying to make a name for themselves. Most of these performers played the same, typical style of college music ñ a punk, pop, and/or alternative mix backed by a couple guitars, a bass and a set of drums. I had always assumed this was the case at all college campuses across the country. But, I’ve learned that if you head on down to Chapel Hill, NC, you’ll find that The Steep Canyon Rangers are turning the music scene on its head.

The ensemble of Woody Platt, Mike Guggino, Charles Humphrey, Nicky Sanders, and Graham Sharp play a rhythmic mix of bluegrass, classic country, rock n’ roll and blues that make up the melody of SCR. And this sound isn’t just for your grand pappy anymore ñ visit the Cats Cradle near the band’s stomping grounds of the University of North Carolina, and you’ll see college kids enjoying a twist on an old school genre that invites a whole new audience to find music that respects its roots.

In 2006, the International Bluegrass Music Association voted Steep Canyon Rangers the Emerging Artist of the Year, and it isn’t just the critics taking notice ñ bluegrass fans made their song, “One Dime at a Time,” a #1 bluegrass hit. Their third release, “Lovin’ Pretty Women,” promises even more success for it was produced by bluegrass heavyweight Ronnie Bowman and engineered by guitarist Wyatt Rice. It would be in your best interest to take advantage of an opportunity to see SCR in concert when you can, because it isn’t just good ol’ American boys that are enjoying their bluegrass sound. They’ve been on tour in both Sweden and Ireland so far this summer. But you can catch them at their own festival, “Mountain Song,” in Brevard, NC on September 15th. Read their XXQ’s and then buy your tickets.

XXQs: Steep Canyon Rangers

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How and when did Steep Canyon Rangers form as a group?

Steep Canyon Rangers (SCR): It was 1999 When Graham Sharp (banjo), Charles Humphrey (bass) and Woody Platt (guitar) were good friends at the University of North Carolina they decided to start a band with a heavy influence of bluegrassÖ.and eventually after adding Platts longtime friend from Brevard, Mike Guggino (mandolin) along with a revolving door of fiddlers, the true bluegrass band was formed. With Nicky Sanders joining the band in 2004 (fiddle) the band has grown to fulltime bluegrass group with IBMA awards, Grand Ole’ Opry appearances and a #1 bluegrass hit ìOne Dime at a Time.î

PEV: Describe the first live performance for Steep Canyon Rangers.

SCR: The first live performance for SCR was a sorority function on Henderson St. in Chapel Hill NCÖ.we were not good but sure had a lot of friends from college support us in a major way from the beginning.

PEV: Before all the awards and shows, tell us about the early days of Steep Canyon Rangers. Any bad shows or embarrassing tales from the road?

SCR: From the first show, we would play anywhere we could. We were young with simple needs, nothing to lose so we would play almost anywhere from the street corner to the nearest dark dirty barÖ.we often would take fishing gear, tents and head to Colorado for 3 and 4 weeks at time to play in the clubs, camp, fish and attend the festivals such as rocky grass in Lyons ColoradoÖon the way to and from Colorado we would play in cities along the wayÖ.we mainly booked our own gigs w/some help from a close friendÖÖour travel vehicles would break down or blow up quite oftenÖ.we have even had to rent a limo to pick us up from a stranded RV to make a show in time!!

PEV: Starting out in Chapel Hill, NC describe the bluegrass scene there and how is it different from other music scenes?

SCR: Chapel Hill has lot and lots of pickers in the area and surrounding areasÖÖ..the bluegrass scene which had been hot down town in the seventies and early eighties had slowed but the true bluegrass players were everywhereÖ.fiddlers conventions took place in several towns less than one or two hour drive from Chapel HillÖÖ.but when we were seniors in college we took to the bars on Franklin street to cut our teeth and learn about bluegrassÖthe support was great, and it was so different than what most folks in town were used to seeing when they would go outÖit went over real well!!

PEV: Starting out at UNC, do you find that bluegrass is catching on to mainstream college kids?

SCR: I sure think soÖour shows at the Cats Cradle in Chapel Hill and other college type clubs are usually well attended and mainly by college age folks also, In Raleigh at the pour house we are usually quite full and the bulk of the folks are younger college age.

PEV: Who were some of the band’s early inspirations?

SCR: I think we were most Inspired about playing this cool acoustic music and making It sound really good and well put togetherÖwe were Inspired to create new music with an old soundÖ.to create new music while following types of styles and formulasÖÖ.but we possibly could have been mainly Inspired by the joy and fun of playing music w/one another and playing it for grateful people.

PEV: Having the International Bluegrass Music Association vote Steep Canyon Rangers the Emerging Artist of the Year (2006) and the past year also saw the title track “One Dime at a Time” rise to #1 on Bluegrass Unlimited’s National Bluegrass Survey. How have your friends and family reacted to all your success?

SCR: Those recognitions are great and have/will help our career in bluegrassóbut I don’t think they have affected our relationships with friends or family the people close to us are extremely supportive and I think they understand our goals as a band (moving forward).

PEV: In all your travels, which is the best city to play and why?

SCR: Hard to say: Asheville, Chapel Hill, Boulder, Raleigh, and many others are very fun and full of bluegrass fans.

PEV: When you write music, what kind of environment do you surround yourself in?

SCR: I do most of my writing at home; it’s where I’m least distracted,

because I’m pretty good at putting off most household tasks. Whenever

I can steal a few minutes I’ll get out the guitar and run over some

stuff; a lot of it is assembling pieces that I’ve scribbled down here

and there or rephrasing songs with a different melody, lots of

tinkering. Usually a screen porch is where I prefer to write, but I’ll

settle for the back deck.

PEV: Tell us about the creative process for your latest release, “Lovin’ Pretty Women”.

SCR: Our banjo player and bass player write most of our songs but after lyrics and rough melody are written the entire band helps w/arrangements and making adjustments to best fit the song to our sound and style.

PEV: In your opinion, what is the best part about playing live?

SCR: The excitement to share the music with the audience and to feel the energy of the crowd while using it to put on a good show.

PEV: What can people expect from a live Steep Canyon Rangers’ show?

SCR: A very large amount of original songs, 4 and 5 part harmony singing. Humor. And loads if energy.

PEV: Has there been one performance that has stood out over all the others?

SCR: Our shows at the Ryman in Nashville stand out and playing the Grand Ole Opry are standoutsÖÖbut many many shows and festivals we play are very memorable.

PEV: What can fans expect from your latest release, “Lovin’ Pretty Women” and how is it different from any other bluegrass or country album out today?

SCR: LPW is similar to other Steep Canyon records because of the number of songs written by the band membersÖ..we draw very little material from outside the bandÖ..but, in that same way it is different than many other bluegrass records where the material is made up of bluegrass classics or songs from well known Nashville songwriters.

PEV: Is there another artist today, regardless of genre, you think we should look out for?

SCR: Shannon Whitworth who has just released her solo project No Expectations

PEV: You have been noted as bringing a new vibe to bluegrass; playing in rock clubs, jam band festivals and other non-traditional venues. Do you find a certain challenge for “mainstream” music audiences to get into bluegrass?

SCR: Its always a challenge to try and take bluegrass to the non-traditional bluegrass venuesÖbut I feel that it is becoming more and more popular and will continue to move in that direction as long as the young folks keep listening to and picking bluegrass!

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Steep Canyon Rangers?

SCR: None of the band members picked bluegrass before

SCR so this is all of our first bluegrass band…plus, we are all good friends on and off of the stage.

PEV: When you get to relax or have some down time, what can we find you doing?

SCR: Fly fishing for trout in the mountains of western NC.

PEV: What artist today would you like to collaborate with?

SCR: Willie Nelson, Larry Sparks and Del McCoury.

PEV: So, what is next for Steep Canyon Rangers?

SCR: We have tours planed to Sweden and Ireland this summer and after that we host our own festival in Brevard, NC called Mtn. Song on September 15th. We have hired Del McCoury, Claire Lynch, Tony Rice and Peter Rowan.

For more information on the Steep Canyon Rangers, check out http://www.SteepCanyon.com.com

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