Getting Personal with Woody Platt and Steve Martin

Steep Canyon Rangers | Photo Sandy Harris
Steep Canyon Rangers | Photo Sandy Harris

Sifting through our archives, we came across my interview with Woody Platt lead vocalist in Steep Canyon Rangers who was on tour with Steve Martin (yes, the Steve Martin).  We thought it would be fun to go back in time and share this piece with you.

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers will be playing at the Cuthbert Amphitheater in Eugene this Wednesday July 25th.  The Steep Canyon Rangers are a bluegrass band who have been together for 12 years and are proud to call North Carolina their home.  They live in the southern tip of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains.

Steep Canyon Rangers  Cuthbert Amphitheater  |  Photo Sandy Harris
Steep Canyon Rangers Cuthbert Amphitheater | Photo Sandy Harris

They have paired with Steve Martin, who is an accomplished banjo player and recorded an album, Rare Bird Alert, making it’s debut in March of 2011.  They are touring and promoting their album this year, making their way across the United States as well as into Canada.

Bluegrass is made up of stringed instruments and they all come together at once!  The Steep Canyon Rangers is comprised of Woody Platt guitar/vocals, Graham Sharp on banjo/vocals Mike Guggino on the mandolin/vocals, Nicky Sanders on fiddle/vocals and Charles R. Humphrey lll on bass/vocals.

Steep Canyon Rangers  |  Photo Sandy Harris
Steep Canyon Rangers | Photo Sandy Harris

I had the pleasure of speaking with Woody Platt about their tour promoting their album Rare Bird Alert.  I asked Woody if he could describe bluegrass music for those of us who have never experienced it before.

“Well, it’s purely American music. The phrase bluegrass was coined in 1946 on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry.  It features banjo, mandolin, guitar, bass and fiddle.  The music is not that old.  It can be traced back to Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs, the founding originators of the music which is pretty cool.”

What took you to bluegrass music?

“There is a lot of bluegrass in the state of North Carolina.  We just got interested in college.  It just kinda happened naturally”

I asked Woody how it makes him feel when he is playing.

“It feels good for a lot of reasons.  It’s really fun to have that kind of team work.  There are distinctive rolls for each member.  Theres a joy when it all comes together and a kind of pride carrying on a tradition.  You feel great when you entertain an audience, bringing music to people that they can genuinely enjoy.  Knowing it enriches lives”

Woody Platt Steep Canyon Rangers | Photo Sandy Harris
Woody Platt Steep Canyon Rangers | Photo Sandy Harris

How did you build your band?

“We were college buddies.  It just happened organically.  We played first at parties, then graduated from college and realized we had a lot of parties and it just kind of worked out for us”

How did you come up with the name for your band?

“It actually came off a bottle of beer;  Steep Canyon Stout.  Actually I think it was from a brewery in Oregon.  We put a piece of tape over stout and wrote rangers and that was our band name”

How have you seen your band evolve over the years?

“We started from scratch, ground zero.  We knew each other pretty well then, good friends, good dynamic.  We have evolved in a lot of ways, knowing it’s a business, surrounding ourselves with good agents and having fun.  Its a job but its about enjoying what you are doing”

Did you ever imagine you would be touring and producing albums as well as playing beside Steve?

“Never in the cards for us, its been a blessing.  We are very busy”

Rare Bird Alert; how did the album title come about?

“Steve did a movie called Big Year.  It was about bird watching.  Rare Bird Alert is an actual birder term used in birding.  That was it, it just became the title track”

Steep Canyon Rangers  |  Photo Sandy Harris
Steep Canyon Rangers | Photo Sandy Harris

Can you tell us a little about the Mountain Song Festival that you founded?

“It was a vessel in North Carolina to raise money for the boys and girls club and Steve has been a big part of that. Its a way to give back to the community.  We do one big benefit a year and we have raised a quarter of a million dollars for it in six years”

What would you say to an artist just starting out?

“Start as young as you can but don’t be discouraged if you were going to make a band out of it.  Its easier to cut your teeth when money isn’t as important.  We started when we were able to play for the love of playing.  Find local jam sessions, find the guy down the street that could show you the licks, there are a lot of ways.  Get out there and go for it.  Get as many resources as you can”

We all know Steve as a comedian.  Is he always cracking jokes during practices?

“He is a funny guy but he is serious and in a respectful way about music.  The show incorporates a lot of comedy in between the songs.  Its a bluegrass show and comedy show all in one”

What has this experience taught you?

“Its hard work, communication can pay off.  A lot of determination and compromise.  We make a lot of sacrifices in our family lives; our home lives to make this career work but nothing is easy.  If you work hard things will pay off”

Do you all write music or do you have specific writers?

“Charles R. Humphrey lll; our banjo player and Graham Sharp our bass player are the main writers but everyone contributes. Steve writes all of his songs that he plays and we are starting to work up some new tunes too”

What would you like to share with everyone?

Steve Martin  |  Photo  Sandy Harris
Steve Martin | Photo Sandy Harris

“I would encourage people to come to the show, experience the show.  You get the celebrity, music and comedy.”

How does a bluegrass themed cruise to a private island in the Bahama’s sound?  Mountain Song Home at Sea cruise will be sailing from Miami February 1-4th, 2013.  It is an inaugural voyage and will feature more than a dozen bluegrass bands!  You can find out more about this cruise on the Steep Canyon Rangers website.  I would encourage you to look into this, as it looks very exciting!

The Steep Canyon Rangers would like you to come say hi at the record table after the show.

Wells Fargo and the Cuthbert Amphitheater will be collaborating with FOOD for Lane County during this event. For each non-perishable item you bring to donate, you will be entered into a drawing to win four free tickets to an upcoming event at the Cuthbert Amphitheater.

Graham Sharp  Steep Canyon Rangers  |  Photo  Sandy Harris
Graham Sharp Steep Canyon Rangers | Photo Sandy Harris

The gates open at 5:30 p.m.  Show starts at 7 p.m. Advance tickets $60.00 for reserved seating close to the stage and $40.00 for general admission.

So grab some groceries and come on down to the Cuthbert Amphitheater and enjoy some awesome bluegrass music, great comedy and meet some celebrities.  Surely an enjoyable summer evening is to be had.

I also wanted to share with you my review of their sold out concert from 2012.  Imagine how excited I was to find they were returning to Eugene!  Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers will be performing at the Hult Center featuring Edie Brickell May 7, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.  If you have the opportunity, to see these amazing and talented musicians perform I can tell you it is a performance I know you will not soon forget.

See you out there!


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