The Steep Canyon Rangers are what you might call “brothers in music.” Mike Guggino (mandolin), Charles Humphrey III (bass), Woody Platt (guitar), Nicky Sanders (fiddle), and Graham Sharp (banjo) - met and began playing bluegrass during their college days in Chapel Hill, NC. Now, some ten years later, the Steep Canyon Rangers are bluegrass’ surprise sensation as evidenced in their recent July 4th performance with comedian Steve Martin playing banjo at the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Over half a million people gathered to hear The Steep Canyon Rangers and Martin perform a high-energy set that culminated in the patriotic “Me and Paul Revere.” The tune tells the story of Revere’s famous ride from the point of view of, yes, you’re reading this correctly, his horse. In this case, a member of the equine family named Brown Beauty.
The song is surprisingly sincere—and beautiful. A catchy, foot-tappin’ musical interpretation of a historical moment in time.
The band’s popularity has spiked since the Mall performance, and a new album is due out in ’12. Meanwhile, The Steep Canyon Rangers are on a post-patriotic tour. The show, “Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers,” stops in Costa Mesa on August 18, at 7:30 pm at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
We caught up with the guys during a recent stop. Here’s part of the conversation.
LASplash: You've managed to make a genre of music – bluegrass -- and instruments such as the fiddle and banjo relevant now to a modern audience. How?
Steep Canyon Rangers: We have been lucky to have the opportunity to play bluegrass music to a wide variety of listeners over the past few years. While touring with Steve Martin there have been appearances on several prime time television talk shows as well as a very large performance on the Capitol lawn for the July 4th celebration. These opportunities along with the regular tour dates that Steve and Steep Canyon Rangers have been playing have helped expand the interest in bluegrass music.
LAS: Tell us about the experience of performing at the Mall on July 4th.
SCR: It truly was an amazing feeling to have such a grand setting for bluegrass music and to feel the energy from that large of an audience. We were very proud to be there!
LAS: Was injecting patriotism into songs something you always thought about or it just happened?
SCR: Steve had been working on "Me and Paul Revere" which was a perfect theme for that celebration. Also, Nicky our fiddler added the patriotic quotes to "Orange Blossom Special" for the occasion as well.
LAS: Is the Steve Martin partnership going to continue, or is it only for the current tour?
SCR: The partnership with Steve is in its 2nd year. We will continue to tour on and off. We all have worked hard to develop this show, one we are really proud of, so we will try and keep it together in some form. Plus, we have a co-record that we want to promote.
LAS: Steve must have some pretty interesting groupies, yeah?
LAS: We’d be remiss if we didn't ask about the forthcoming album. Tease us!
SCR: Rare Bird Alert is the current album and we mainly focus on that group of tunes for the show. Although Steve has some wonderful tunes from his first record The Crow that we also play in the show. The creativity is still at a high level and we have tunes that are newer than Rare Bird Alert and that could possibly lead to another album--but it is too early to tell. We are headed into the studio in October to record a Steep Canyon Rangers record.