2013 Lineup : Steep Canyon Rangers
he 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-timing 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 have also recorded a series of albums, each one expanding on the strengths of the one before. And in keeping with their longstanding emphasis on growth and improvement, their newest Rebel Records release, Deep In The Shade, will likely be regarded as their finest work to date.
Following up the success of their 2007 CD Lovin’ Pretty Women (a nominee for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Album of the Year), the Rangers went back into the studio with star bluegrass singer and songwriter Ronnie Bowman as producer. He ensured that the band continued to take steps forward with the signature elements of their sound – original songwriting, relaxed grooves and expert singing and instrumental work. It’s a project 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.
They are a product of their times, and what times they’ve been for 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. But not all the bands that formed out of that burst of enthusiasm have worked as hard or stayed together as long. 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 admit with bemusement that their early shows, while packed, were ragged by the standards of the bluegrass artists they respected. But as they followed their ears further back in time and into the deep repertoire of the masters, they let it shape their songwriting and performing. After graduating from UNC, they had made relationships with enough venues to “barely scrape out a living,” as Woody Platt puts it. But they built from there, and by 2006, they were named IBMA’s Emerging Artist of the Year. They 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 up 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.
All this sets the stage for Deep In The Shade, an album that enlarges the Steep Canyon Rangers’ touch with adapting various roots styles into their bluegrass vision. In Martin’s liner notes for the album, he captures the essence of their sound: “The Rangers’ original music is firmly rooted in tradition, and it makes you feel that even though you know you haven’t heard this music before, it seems like you have, or at least should have.”
You’ll hear it in the rockabilly backbeat and rapid-fire lyrics of “I Thought That She Loved Me.” “The Mountain’s Gonna Sing,” which lends the album its title, has a spiritual tone and an infectious melody. Bluegrass doesn’t get much bluer than “Heartbreak Is Real,” emphatically punctuated by Guggino’s mandolin downstrokes and Sanders’ keening, biting fiddle. And for utter freshness, put on the swaying “Hollerin’ House” and the propulsive “Nowhere To Lay Low,” dark but absorbing tunes that will remind some listeners of the Bob Dylan cult classic “Isis.” There’s always a well chosen cover or two on Rangers albums, and here they lend honky-tonk classicism to Merle Haggard’s “I Must Be Somebody Else You’ve Known” and a cappella lushness to Lead Belly’s “Sylvie.”
There’s a lot more here, most of all a sensibility born of sincere admiration for a musical tradition and a healthy group dynamic that lets these five musicians contribute their voice to a larger whole. They are heirs to the insightful feel and audience-broadening approach that characterized the Seldom Scene in the 1970s and Hot Rize in the 1980s. We don’t know where the Steep Canyon Rangers are taking bluegrass exactly, but watching out the windshield with them is a remarkable experience.
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- Michael Franti
- Bob Schneider
- The Del McCoury Band
- Jerry Douglas
- Leftover Salmon
- Carolina Chocolate Drops
- Justin Townes Earle
- The James Hunter Six
- Fred Eaglesmith
- Son Volt
- Martin Sexton
- Peter Rowan’s Twang an’ Groove
- Elephant Revival
- Casey Driessen Singularity Tour
- Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out
- Green Mountain Grass
- The Gourds
- Steve Poltz
- Terri Hendrix
- The Reivers
- Della Mae
- Kimberly Zielnicki
- Lake Street Dive
- The Dunwells
- Rose's Pawn Shop
- Wood & Wire
- The Giving Tree Band
- Lone Star Swing
- 2013 Youth Talent Competition Winner
- Sunday Service
- Youth Talent Competition
- Korn Dog King Presents...
* schedule & times subject to change.
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The Line Up
Thursday: Fred Eaglesmith, Della Mae, The Giving Tree Band, Lone Star Swing and Wood & Wire. Friday: The Del McCoury Band, Michael Franti, Son Volt, Justin Townes Earle, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Fred Eaglesmith, Terri Hendrix, Green Mountain Grass, Dirtfoot and Della Mae. Saturday: Leftover Salmon, Bob Schneider, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Martin Sexton, The Gourds, The James Hunter Six, Jerry Douglas, The Reivers, The Dunwells, Peter Rowan’s Twang an’ Groove, Casey Driessen Singularity, Elephant Revival, Lake Street Dive, Kimberly Zielnicki featuring the Lost & Nameless Orchestra, and Rose’s Pawn Shop. Sunday: The Gourds, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, MilkDrive, Steve Poltz, and Elephant Revival
Subject to change
- 04 24 Thank you!
- 04 02 Phone Apps Ready!
- 03 25 Coffee vendor
- 03 21 Schedule Set for Old Settler's
- 01 12 Michael Franti, Bob Schneider and more at Old Settler's!