THE Grammy-fetching bluegrass troupe Steep Canyon Rangers may be just the perfect band to introduce the 2016 Savannah Music Festival lineup. Blending technical virtuoso with a strong dose of mischief, the Brevard, North Carolina-based boys can easily button up and pull out all the stops at Carnegie Hall and get muddy with the crowd at Bonnaroo.
It's kind of a match made in heaven, pairing them with Savannah Music Festival, a cultural celebration that champions everything from Beethoven trios to Dr. John & The Nite Trippers.
Now in their 16th year together, the Rangers truly took off in 2009 when they received an invitation to collaborate from a surprising American icon: actor, comedian, and passionate banjoist Steve Martin. After performing at a benefit concert for the Los Angeles Public Library, Martin took the Rangers on a world bluegrass tour; in between furious picking and foot-stomping fun, the beloved funnyman would entertain the crowd with his signature absurdity.
The gig landed the small-town Southern outfit a spot on playlists worldwide. In 2010, they teamed up with Martin once more to release Rare Bird Alert, a collaborative LP that boasted the Paul McCartney and The Dixie Chicks as guests. The critically-acclaimed record scored the Rangers and Martin the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album.
The versatile Rangers have teamed up with singer-songwriter Edie Brickell, several symphonies, and have released 11 albums, most recently 2015’s RADIO. Recorded in their home state’s acclaimed Echo Mountain Recording studio, the LP is another gem in the Canyon canon, filled to the brim with robust harmonies, swift pickin’, feel-good melodies, string-sawing fiddle, and overwhelming talent.
It’s looking to be a packed 2016 for the band, with appearances at Rocky Grass Festival in Colorado, an exciting performance with Steve Martin, Edie Brickell, and the Utah Symphony at Deer Valley Music Festival, Bonnaroo, and a new album in the works with Martin.
On Saturday, the Rangers head south to celebrate the unveiling of the full Savannah Music Festival lineup at Southbound Brewing Company. Show attendees will be treated to a taste of Rollin’ & Stumblin’ (a limited-release double IPA that follows last year’s popular SMF Rollin’ and Tumblin’ IPA), a souvenir pint glass, Southbound samples, plus a 22 oz. bomber of Rollin’ & Stumblin’ to take home. Gaslight Group will have a food truck on site with delectable delicacies to nosh on with that beer, and the full 2016 Savannah Music Festival lineup will be revealed during the evening.
There’s no better way to plan your 2016 SMF than to get the first scoop, all while getting down to Steep Canyon Rangers’ danceable grooves with a beer in hand—get your ticket in advance to guarantee your spot.
Steep Canyon Rangers guitarist and lead vocalist Woody Platt offered us some insight into the band’s success, longevity, and how they have a total blast in any environment.
On their hybrid style:
We kind of take pride in that we can play in the real traditional bluegrass style and we can play in the more eclectic rock ‘n’ roll clubs. We can do kind of upscale, sit-down theaters, and we really enjoy that. We do a lot of symphony shows—backed by symphonies. We love the diversity of our schedule, it keeps us on our toes and we see all different types of fans out there.
On collaborating with actor/comedian/banjo extraordinaire Steve Martin:
This year, we’re doing a Martin Short/Steve Martin comedy tour. On and off for the last couple of years, we’ve been on the road with Steve. We’ve been really blessed, really lucky to partner with him and learn from him, and the exposure has been good for the band.
He’s a great musician, very unique. He’s really got his own style, which is a huge part of being a musician. You can recognize his banjo skills and banjo playing. He’s a prolific songwriter, passionate, and a great entertainer. He adds the comedy into it and it makes a great show.
On recording their latest, RADIO, at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, North Carolina with acclaimed dobro player Jerry Douglas:
We cut it live and we cut it in isolation, put the rhythm section in one big room, isolated the vocals, and isolate a lot of solo instruments. That way, we got a live track, so we had a little flexibility to replay if we need to. But we’re a live band, for sure.
On Steep Canyon’s intensive songwriting process:
Our banjo player and bass player write the bulk of our material. We record 99% original music. Graham, our banjo player, writes solo, sits down, and I might sing, add guitar, start messing with it, we see if it fits. If we get something that fits the band, we put it up on chopping block so everybody listens and has heard and considered the options. We try everything so many different ways, it takes a long time to come to life.
Our bass player co-writes a lot with people outside of the band—that gives his writing a different sound. Together, they tend to bring two different writing styles, which give us a plethora of music to choose from.
The thing I like about both approaches is that, when they bring it to the band, they don’t say, ‘This is how it goes. Play it like this!’ They’re very open-minded.
The spirit of a band like ours is a democracy. We share everything; we’re not like, one band member with a bunch of hired members. That’s the nature of our group.