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Ride with the Rangers: bluegrass favorites do benefit for Asheville's Evergreen Charter School

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1/13/2012 - Ride with the Rangers: bluegrass favorites do benefit for Asheville's Evergreen Charter School
by Michael Flynn - take5 - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE -- As a bunch of long-haired University of North Carolina students more than a decade ago, the Steep Canyon Rangers were initially outsiders in the Piedmont bluegrass scene.

 "We weren't accepted right away," recalls guitarist and lead singer Woody Platt, 34. "We were college kids with ponytails. But we were persistent and having so much fun learning the music. Once we got the bug, it kind of set us on fire. There was no pressure to be successful; we were just having fun." 

The band still is and has reached a level of success that seemed beyond reach back in the days of Chapel Hill jams in the late '90s. After a stellar year, the Rangers kick off a busy 2012 tonight with a hometown show at The Orange Peel benefiting Evergreen Community Charter School.

In 2011, the band released its first collaborative CD with actor and banjo ace Steve Martin, "Rare Bird Alert," which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's bluegrass chart and just earned a Grammy nomination. The band played with Martin at the White House for a poetry celebration in May, performing in the East Room for the president and first lady, and jammed for hundreds of thousands on the U.S. Capitol lawn to celebrate the Fourth of July.

This year, the band has about 50 shows booked with Martin, including a Memorial Day weekend performance with the Boston Pops. The Rangers will play another 60-70 of their own gigs and are set to release their eighth album in March, tentatively titled "Nobody Knows You."

Along with Platt, the band features Charles Humphrey III on bass and Graham Sharp on banjo, all of whom attended UNC together, Mike Guggino on mandolin, who grew up with Platt in Brevard and graduated from UNC Asheville, and Nicky Sanders on fiddle, who's been with the group about eight years. All members contribute to the band's compelling vocal harmonies.

The Rangers connected with Martin a few years ago through his wife, Anne, who knew about the band through Platt's brother. Some fun dinner party picking in Brevard led Martin to join the band at its Mountain Song Festival held each year at Brevard Music Center, and things took off from there.

"I didn't think that having an informal jam session was going to lead to two or three years of touring," Platt says about the initial gathering. "One thing kept leading to another."

Martin isn't on the bill for tonight's show, which benefits Evergreen charter, where Humphrey's daughter attends. Band members all live in Brevard or Asheville, and the new album was recorded in town at Echo Mountain studios for premier roots label Rounder Records.

"It fits in the progression of our projects," Platt says about the upcoming CD. "The songwriting of Graham and Charles really shines. It's less predictable in its bluegrass style."

Look for plenty of those tunes at the Peel, where the Rangers are planning two sets. Amid its coast-to-coast touring this year, the group plans to be home in May for a CD release show at Pisgah Brewing, as well as its annual Mountain Song Festival in Brevard in September.

"We feel like 2011 was a big year, and 2012 is gearing up to be just as strong," Platt says. "We want to continue grow musically and take advantage of the new opportunities in front of us."

 

 

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