Steep Canyon Rangers climb to success
North Carolina’s bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers is getting ready to embark on a nationwide tour with actor, comedian and musician Steve Martin this spring, but will be playing a one-night only show by itself at 8 p.m. Saturday at Stowe’s Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center.
A 2011 collaboration with Martin and 2012 solo project, “Nobody Knows You,” earned the band two Grammy nominations and it has recently appeared on Late Night with David Letterman and The View.
The quintet’s members include fiddle player Nicky Sanders, who began training as a classical violinist at age 5, and upright bass player Charles R. Humphrey III, who studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where the band formed.
Mike Guggino began playing mandolins and mandolas in college where he was introduced to bluegrass through childhood friend and fellow member Woody Platt. And Graham Sharp, who plays the banjo, writes most of the songs for the group, with Humphrey.
“I grew up with Woody, our guitar player,” Guggino said. “He said (they) needed a mandolin player, so I joined up. We had a different fiddler to begin with, who was also going to college with those guys, and she left the band in 2001 and Nicky, our current fiddle player, has been with us ever since. So we were just a college band, just having fun,” he said.
“It was kind of a slow process,” Guggino said of the band’s beginning. “We took it more seriously as it went along, started playing a lot of bluegrass festivals and started to gain some popularity. We did a band competition at the Rocky Grass Festival and won that, and that sort of helped us getting gigs out west.”
Touring with Steve Martin is something Steep Canyon Rangers have been doing for years, and in May they will leave on another U.S. tour along with Edie Brickell.
“They’re about to release a record, and so we’re gonna be touring with both of them, but as one band. It’s gonna be Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell,” Guggino said.
Of working with Martin, Guggino said, “It’s great. He’s a professional, a hard worker; he likes to play original songs and he writes a lot of music. He treats us really well and wants us to be successful with our own career and it’s just a joy. We get to play a lot of great, great venues all over the country; we play bluegrass to huge audiences that we would have never got to play for if we hadn’t been working with him, so it’s a great opportunity for us.”
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