We went to a Steep Canyon Rangers concert last night and came away again convinced this is the premier bluegrass band in the country. We heard them last year and if anything, their music has gotten even better.
The group formed in 2000 when Woody Platt (guitar), Graham Sharp (banjo) and Charles Humphrey (upright bass) were undergraduates at the University of North Carolina. Soon Mike Guggino (mandolin), a childhood friend of Platt’s, was asked to join. Drummers and fiddlers have changed over the years. In 2004, Nicky Sanders approached the band for the position of full-time fiddle player and subsequently joined. Mike Ashworth has been the percussionist for some time and you will note in thee You Tube videos that he plays a box, which is a drum for bluegrass bands.
Last year, Jerry Douglas joined them on the dobro, a type of acoustic guitar with steel resonating disks inside the body under the bridge.
In 2001, the Rangers took first prize in Lyons, CO at the Rocky Grass Festival competition, an amazing accomplishment for one year in existence. The next year the band won Emerging Artist of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards ceremony. Following the release of their fifth album in 2007, the band received two more IBMA nominations for Best Album and Gospel Performance of the Year and in 2010, Sanders’s fiddle tune “Mourning Dove” was nominated for IBMA Instrumental Song of the Year. In 2013, the Steep Canyon Rangers’ solo album Nobody Knows won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. They are good, really good.
In May 2009, Steep Canyon Rangers were asked by banjoist/comedian Steve Martin to perform with him (as a sextet) in a benefit concert, which was met with much acclaim. Martin subsequently asked the Rangers to accompany him on a “world bluegrass tour” taking the group to venues such as Carnegie Hall (New York), Royal Festival Hall (London) and the Wang Center in Boston.
We are going to see Steve Martin and the SCR this spring and can’t wait.
The SCR’s music is hand clapping and danceable and crosses genres from jazz to symphonic and Back. As individual musicians, the band members are superb but together they are much more.
An interesting side item: the SCRs began their career playing at Linda’s,an infamous beer joint in downtown Chapel Hill. I used to go there in the 1980s with the first year medical classes after the Thursday afternoon labs. I usually joined them after I’d picked up my son – he came with me in a carrier on my back!
Enjoy these pieces!
And a version of Orange Blossom Special which features Steve Martin and the incredible fiddling of Nicky Sanders, who can make a fiddle talk!