“Lovin’ Pretty Women” from the album Lovin’ Pretty Women
“Telluride,” answers Steep Canyon Rangers guitarist and lead vocalist Woody Platt, when asked where he’d like to see his band play in the future. It shouldn’t take long for the neo-traditionalist bluegrass quintet to get there.
The Rangers have already played Nashville’s prestigious Ryman Auditorium four times this year, and they’ll be back on New Year’s Eve for an all-star jam with the legendary Del McCoury. They’re MerleFest regulars. Earlier this year, they represented the U.S. in Ireland at a festival celebrating the Scotch-Irish fiddle traditions from which bluegrass music sprung.
Forming in Chapel Hill in the late ’90s, the Rangers — guitarist/banjoist Graham Sharp, bassist Charles R. Humphrey III, mandolinist Mike Guggino, and fiddler Nicky Sanders — have steadily developed a style and garnered an audience. Once a rag-tag group of long-haired buddies covering Hendrix on their acoustic instruments, they now take the stage dressed in suits. They are one of the few young bluegrass bands die-hard traditionalists don’t mutter under their breath about.
“We play a ton of bean-blossom-type festivals, but we also play a ton of clubs, bars, and hippie festivals,” says Platt. “We’re going to wear the suits and play the same songs wherever we go, and we’re proud of that. We can party, and then we can also do a gospel set.”
Their skilled chops (any one member could sit in with Earl & Scruggs and not skip a beat) led them to recognition last year as the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Emerging Artist of the Year,” earning them heavy rotation on the GAC channel, and the title track on their recently released Lovin’ Pretty Women peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard bluegrass charts. Not bad for a bunch of homegrown Carolina guys, unplugged and harmonizing. —Stratton Lawrence