Thursday, April 22, 2010

High Marks for Steep Canyon: The Asheville natives have come up in the music world playing behind Steve Martin

By Lisa O'Donnell | Journal Reporter
April 22, 2010

The Steep Canyon Rangers spent years laboring over their instruments, honing their live shows, building up a national audience and sweating over four studio recordings.

The effort has reaped some handsome returns. In bluegrass circles, the quintet from Asheville has emerged as one of the genre's hottest acts, racking up awards and critical praise and playing some of the most hallowed stages in music.

But in the larger world, the Rangers are best known as a backup band, a term that conjures up images of faceless musicians playing in the shadows while the eyes of the audience are fixed on the main act.

In the Rangers' case, the decision to back up Steve Martin while he tours the country in support of his banjo album, The Crow, was a no-brainer. The gravy train rarely stops for bluegrass bands.

"It's a good identity," said Woody Platt, who sings and plays guitar for the Rangers. "There could be worse things."

Indeed, playing with Martin has given the band the kind of exposure rarely bestowed upon bluegrass musicians. In the last year, they have joined Martin for segments on The Late Show with David Letterman, The View and Later… with Jools Holland, a popular British music show, and played such venues as Carnegie Hall in New York.

Next week, the band will reach another milestone when it plays the Watson stage at MerleFest with Martin on May 1 at 7:30 p.m. In addition, the Rangers will play solo shows on Friday and Saturday.

During the set with Martin, the Rangers are only too happy to cede the spotlight.

"When we play with Steve, we feel like a band," Platt said. "He gives us credit and introduces who we are and lots of times, features us in his show. It's a pretty great thing."

The Rangers have played MerleFest before and are familiar with the special vibe that permeates the Wilkes Community College during the four-day festival.

"We cherish the opportunity whenever we play MerleFest," said Platt, talking by phone from his home in Brevard.

Nothing in Platt's upbringing suggested that he would one day play MerleFest or any other venue for that matter. Bluegrass is dotted with prodigies, such as Ricky Skaggs and Sam Bush, who were seemingly born with a bow in hand. More...

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