On the Range

Steep Canyon Rangers' road to success

If the harmonious bluegrass that’s coming from the Steep Canyon Rangers sounds like a band lost in time and Appalachia, it is because they practically are. Nestled in the foothills of North Carolina, the Steep Canyon Rangers have perfected a true and traditional country folk that’s propelled them to the national spotlight.

The Steep Canyon Rangers play the City Winery on Feb. 28.

“We’ve been playing lots of different kinds of shows lately, from clubs to performance halls,” says founding member and banjo player Graham Sharp (pictured, far right). “In both cases, it translates so well with the directness of the acoustic instruments and voices, the live shows are where we are at our best.”

The Steep Canyon Rangers also include guitarist Woody Platt, mandolin player Mike Guggino, bassist Charles Humphrey III, fiddler Nicky Sanders and drummer Mike Ashworth, with Sharp and Humphrey sharing the majority of songwriting duties. These days, though, it’s hard to talk about the band’s lineup without mentioning their frequent collaborator, Steve Martin.

Yes, that Steve Martin.

The actor and accomplished banjo player first joined the Rangers onstage in 2009 for a broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion. Since then, the group and Martin have toured extensively together, and they collaborated on the 2011 album, Rare Bird Alert.

“He’s an insanely creative guy,” says Sharp of Steve Martin, “and as hard a worker as I’ve ever seen in the business. Its inspiring.”

Rare Bird Alert was nominated for Best Bluegrass Album at the 2012 Grammys, and though it lost that year, the Steep Canyon Rangers took the award home the next year with their own album, Nobody Knows You.

“It’s a pretty amazing feeling,” admits Sharp. “We’ve always been a band that’s based our music on all the old bluegrass we love, but we try to forge our own path as much as we can,” he continues. “Having that be validated felt pretty good, and it’s given us a lot of confidence to follow that path.”

That path so far includes 2013’s widely respected release Tell the Ones I Love, and a live concert album, featuring Martin and singer-songwriter Edie Brickell.

Just a few months ago, the Steep Canyon Rangers wrapped recording on their newest effort, a still-untitled album due out this summer. Sharp is looking forward to visiting the North Bay.

“It’s just a great place for music, so it’s always a great place to play.”

The Steep Canyon Rangers play Saturday, Feb. 28, at City Winery, 1030 Main St., Napa. 8pm. $20–$30. 707.260.1600.

Sonoma County Library