I first met members of the Steep Canyon Rangers in 2001 at a party on Durango’s Southside.
They were in town for reasons unknown to me, fresh off winning the Rockygrass Band competition. Since then, they’ve played several shows in Durango, including a few appearances at the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown.
All the while I’ve watched them move further away from that night of picking in that front yard. If there’s such a thing as a ladder to success, then this North Carolina band has done everything it can to climb to the top. They’ve won band competitions, performed at every major bluegrass festival in the country, got a Grammy nomination for backing comedian and banjo-picker Steve Martin on a record and tours, and in February they won a bluegrass album of the year Grammy for their most recent release, “Nobody Knows You.”
The Steep Canyon Rangers will play Thursday at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. Returning to familiar environs are Woody Platt on guitar and vocals, Graham Sharp on banjo and vocals, Mike Guggino on mandolin, Nicky Sanders on fiddle and Charles Humphrey on bass. Opening the show will be the local bluegrass quartet Wild Mountain.
The rise to success has been everything they’ve thought it would be.
“Being in L.A. and winning a Grammy is the pinnacle of the award you can get in music,” Platt said from his North Carolina Home. “For bluegrass to get recognition in that setting is really good for the music. Playing with Steve (Martin) raised our profile, but I think it was nice to win the Grammy on our own, to reinforce that it’s not all been about what Steve has brought to the table. It’s been about us as well. What’s next for us is to capitalize on the momentum and continue to make good music.”
Making good music is a task the Steep Canyon Rangers do in overdrive. They’re about to head to the late rock icon Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, N.Y., to record their next record, something The Band drummer requested when the Rangers played one of his Midnight Ramble concerts. They’re also playing shows on their own in addition to shows with Martin. Some of the shows with the comedian/musician are standard concerts; others have been a series of shows playing in front of symphony orchestras. They’re also on the lineup for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival this summer.
“It’s so fun because everything is so different. It keeps us on our toes; we have about three different bodies of work. It’s been a challenge, but it’s been really great for our band,” Platt said.
Despite the growth, the Grammys and the symphony shows, the Rangers humbly recall the early days and places like here as being special for the band.
“We love Durango. From the beginning of this band, I can remember busking on the streets to get a hotel room. That led into meeting some folks, playing some places and the Meltdown,” Platt said. “The town and people have always been supportive; we have a fond place in our heart for Durango.”
Liggett_b@fortlewis.edu. Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.