Steep Canyon Rangers

Saturday’s outdoor concert by the Steep Canyon Rangers and Acoustic Syndicate should be a special event. When the Steep Canyon Rangers were a new and up-and-coming band, Boone was a major hub for the group.

With the flood waters behind us and a prediction of warm, sunny weather scheduled for the weekend, this Saturday’s outdoor concert by the Steep Canyon Rangers and Acoustic Syndicate should be a special event.

Happening at Beech Mountain Ski Resort, this double bill represents two of the best and most successful bands to ever reside in western North Carolina.

Acoustic Syndicate was breaking newgrass music ground long before the current trend of younger bands expanding the scope of progressive roots music. Now more than 25 years old and going strong, Acoustic Syndicate continues to play their sweet grooves for the masses.

One band that Acoustic Syndicate influenced back in the day was this weekend’s headliners, the Steep Canyon Rangers. Originally beginning in Chapel Hill, the Steep Canyon Rangers soon relocated to the Asheville area and have grown into one of the most successful bands in the greater bluegrass world.

The show takes place this Saturday, June 15, at 7 p.m. More information on the concert can be found on our Nightlife Listings, page 13B.

In recent years, the Steep Canyon Rangers have joined forces with actor, comedian and banjo picker Steve Martin to record high-profile albums, play in prestigious concert halls and win impressive awards, including the 2011 International Bluegrass Music Association Entertainers of the Year honor.

After recoding multiple albums with Martin as well as with singer Edie Brickell, and after opening some shows this year for the Steve Martin-Martin Short Comedy Tour, the band has chosen to concentrate on touring more on their own in support of their latest album “Out In The Open.”

Mountain Times recently caught up with Woody Platt and Graham Sharp of the Steep Canyon Rangers on their tour bus in-between gigs in Iowa and Oklahoma, worrying about family members who live here near Boone who are dealing with the recent floods.

“I have spent a lot of time around there, especially in Foscoe,” said Graham Sharp. “All of my family is there right now. Sometime in the early 1970s, my family bought a horse barn on the Watauga River side of Rte. 105 and turned it into a house. We have spent a large chunk of our summers up there since I was a baby. So, it will be good to get up there in the High Country and do a show. We don’t get to play a lot around Boone anymore, so this will be fun. That is if the water finally goes down, as my family is stuck on the far side of the Watauga River because the water is up over the bridge right now (June 10).”

When the Steep Canyon Rangers were a new and up-and-coming band, Boone was a major hub for the group.

“I went up Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain when I was a kid to ski,” said Woody Platt. “When we were in college, the band would frequent Boone early on. We played at Murphy’s Pub a lot. We played on the Appalachian State campus at the Crossroads Coffee House. We also played at Legends and at a few festivals that way including Doc Watson’s festival at Cove Creek in Sugar Grove. All of those gigs were big deals for us and were a major part of our developmental years. I can remember working at a fish market in Chapel Hill, and running into the bathroom to call the booking agent for Murphy’s to try and get us a gig. We played Halloween there one time. We had a lot of fun in Boone. The history is rich there for us.”

The Steep Canyon Rangers are still in awe of Acoustic Syndicate, which is why this “Western North Carolina bands made good” lineup will be fun.

“We are looking forward to reconnecting with the guys in Acoustic Syndicate,” said Platt. “We were massive fans of theirs when we were developing our band. We did shows with them in different parts of the country back then. That is why this is sort of a full-circle homecoming experience for us.”

Sharp agrees when it comes to the importance and impact of Acoustic Syndicate over the years.

“When it comes to Acoustic Syndicate, you kind of tell people that if they don’t know about the band, go back and listen,” said Sharp. “They were on the heels of newgrass music back in the day, yet they were doing their own thing. You have that sound of Steve ‘Big Daddy’ McMurry’s voice and more. When you think of a band like them and also a band back then like the Blue Rags (a ‘punk ragtime band’ based in Asheville in the 1990s), they were both about ten or fifteen years ahead of their time. If they were to come out now, I believe they would take everything by storm.”

Another early influence for the Steep Canyon Rangers was the late Boone-Deep Gap music hero Doc Watson.

“When we started our Mountain Song Festival (this year taking place on Sept. 6-8 in Brevard), we hired Doc Watson as our headliner for the very first year,” said Platt. “He spent a little time with us backstage, but we didn’t get to spend enough time with him, especially considering what a big influence he was on this band. His album, ‘Remembering Merle’ (Watson’s album honoring the death of his son and musical collaborator Merle Watson) was the first bluegrass record I ever listened to.”

That holds true for the rest of the Rangers as well.

“The first time I ever heard Doc Watson was on the ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’ record by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band where he played ‘Tennessee Stud’ and ‘Black Mountain Rag,’” said Sharp. “He was so cool because he was bluegrass, but he was also not bluegrass because he was just himself and played whatever he wanted to play. There has never ever been anyone better at picking and singing than Doc Watson. To have him be around when our band was first getting started, he was a monstrous influence on us.”

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